First, let me say something in the interest of full disclosure. Rachel Sklar and I have corresponded, and actually still do on a regular basis. I respect her as a journalist, and I e-mail her fairly regularly as simply a Colbert fan. She is also respected in the journalism circle, and even on the Pundit circuit – I know I’ve seen her on Scarborough Country a few times as “The Late Night Television Expert”. She’s a fan, she’s not a trend-hopper. And she’s a BIG fan. I respect her greatly, and respect her opinions very much.
Which is why I was a bit shocked to see her piece today in the Huffington Post. Now, as all of you know here on the site, this site is 100% Pro-Colbert. We may voice concerns about Comedy Central, or Viacom, or ColbertNation.com, but when it comes to Stephen and his career, we are amazingly biased in the positive. But Rachel has said things that, at least in the hard-core Colbert community, have remained thus far unsaid. At least this clearly.
I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with her 100%, but I am clearly saying that she makes a solid point, and she makes it with an authority that I personally believe to be a valid one. And, with this in mind, I bring you this article from the Huffington Post. I ask you to please feel free to dialogue, either in the positive or the negative, in the comments box, but please refrain from any Rachel-bashing. Or Colbert-bashing. Just keep it intelligent, ok? As a Nation, we tend to have knee-jerk reactions when someone says something about Colbert that we don’t agree with, and I want to make it extremely clear that this is not coming from a disinterested blowhard blogger, but from a true fan. And she raises points that really do warrant discussion within the Colbert fan community.
And here’s an issue that this blog post doesn’t address, but that I’d like to hear about from other Colbert fans. Between the WristSTRONG campaign, and the IAAASCY marketing push, and the election campaign, is anyone starting to feel a sense of oversaturation burnout at all? Does the election push really feel like it’s just too much for us all, as a Nation, to bear? Or is this another cause to throw our weight behind, and one that the whole nation can get behind as well?
Stephen Colbert, I Love You, But It’s Enough
Huffington Post | Rachel Sklar | October 22, 2007 06:52 PM
The 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner was something else, truly. “Truthiness” is now part of the lexicon because it captured something pervasive and insidious and antithetical to the “reality-based community,” and just naming it made it easier to call out. The GreenScreen challenge — hilarious and fun, same as that business with the Hungarian bridge and Wikipedia and the elephants. Yes, your ice cream is waffly and delicious, stealing O’Reilly’s microwave was hilarious, and we all know how I feel about WristStrong (hi, Jeff Berc!). There is no question that the show is terrific — funny, sure, but reliably sharp as hell, between “The Wørd” and the interviews and the segments. Sometimes it’s goofy hilarity like getting a Florida congressman to admit to loving hookers and blow; sometimes it’s devastating gotcha television like making Bill Kristol squirm over PNAC; sometimes it’s just how he manages to shake great TV moments out of people like Jane Fonda or Barry Manilow orHenry Kissinger. All of it has combined to make Colbert — a funny, smart, and clearly fundamentally decent guy — an incredible force in pop culture and media.
But seriously? It so does not mean he should run for president.
It’s a terrible idea on many different grounds. Comedically, it’s an extreme gag and an unoriginal one at that — getting a bridge named after you in Hungary or branding a minor-league Ontario baseball team or whooshing a museum for yourself into existence or getting a red piece of plastic around Matt Lauer‘s wrist — those are all inherently way funnier than ye olde joke candidate. Really, if it’s already been a Robin Williams movie — which tanked — then seriously, don’t go there. Also, it threatens to get old soon — how much jokesterism on shows like “Meet The Press” before audiences (sorry, voters) grow weary? Sure, we see him every night in character, but it’s a character reacting to different people and their different projects and different stories to boot; when the interviewer becomes the interviewee and he’s got nothing new to offer, it’s a different story. As much as I enjoy Stephen Colbert on his show — and readers of this column have probably figured out that I do — I found myself a bit exasperated by his bit on MTP (though I did appreciate Tim Russert‘s straight-man send-up of himself doing to book-quote “gotcha” – though he couldn’t help giggling in the process, which broke the fourth wall in a way that undercut the exercise). Colbert’s character is great in an interview for forcing people to defend their positions; in this case, it just added up to meaningless bluster. He doesn’t want gay marriage because he only got married so he could taunt gay men? Weak the first time, unimaginable as a talking point over and over again. What has been so great about Colbert is how he uses the character to make the larger point, one which often translates into trenchant (and, let’s face it, earnest) political commentary. This way, he’s using the character to obfuscate instead of illuminate.
It’s also a terrible idea politically — that is, for the political process. Now is the time for the fringe players to slip away. Bye-bye, Brownback, so long Kucinich (we predict) and Gravel (we hope). The race is tightening, stakes are getting higher, and the general feeling is that this is where things start to count. The distraction of a spoof candidate — even the ultimate spoof candidate — will just get in the way.
It’s a good idea for his book, I’ll give him that. But wow, that would sort of be a sell-out.
I don’t think, as Jeff Bercovici does, that Colber should just stick to making jokes and stay in his little box — I thought the White House Correspondents Dinner material was as hilarious as it was cutting — he’s already in the arena and was from his first show, when he loosed the word “truthiness” on the world. Probably he didn’t know that he’d end up being such a truth-to-power speaker, or at least perceived so much as one. But, he is — that’s the role he’s carved out for himself and it’s a good one, a smart one — ironically, much smarter than this traipse along the campaign trail looks to be. Maybe I want Colbert in a box as much as Bercovici does, I don’t know. It’s just where I think he’ll do the most good. Is it old-fashioined, in the presidential race, to want that?