Unless we don’t want to.
Every once in a while they serve themselves up to you on a platter. This is one of those times. A liberal scribe named Kevin Bleyer has penned a condescending piece of nonsense about conservative reactions to the naming of Colbert as Letterman’s Late Night heir. Couldn’t resist. I’m the one in italics.
Herewith the Fisk:
Will Stephen Colbert be a great network television host, or the greatest network television host?
Honestly, it could go either way. Or another way.
Given all the of (sic) “can you believe this?” coverage he has received the last few days from the perpetual commotion machine that is cable news, you’d have thought Stephen Colbert was chosen to replace Kathleen Sebelius, not David Letterman. And given the talent Colbert wields, frankly I’d trust him with my medical and dental plan. (And that brings us to tonight’s word: toothiness.) Given that Kathleen Sebelius has never been anything more than a monotonic cipher, Colbert arguably is more important as a spokesman for the Obama administration. As for your medical and dental plans, I’d advise caution.
Most of the coverage asked a fair enough question: if we let Colbert be Colbert, will he be as amazing as Colbert is when he’s playing Colbert? Don’t think conservatives phrased it just that way. But we’ll get to that later.
This one I can answer definitively. For almost nine years, Stephen Colbert has been playing three-dimensional chess—on point, in character, damn funny. Network late night isn’t checkers, but to put it another way: Stephen Colbert has been training at altitude. Strike that—he’s been winning at altitude, so come next year he’ll be returning to sea level five nights a week with lungs that are as big as his balls. Let’s establish some definitions. “Three dimensional chess” is a phony Star Trek pretense that doesn’t exist in reality. Okay. I’ll stipulate to that. “Altitude” appears to mean the rarefied air where there are hardly any viewers. He beats Lena Dunham and 30 Rock in the ratings, but hardly anyone else. If that’s your definition of “winning,” we know where we stand. “Sea-level” apparently means the lowified air where there are potentially more viewers. Big lungs and big balls. I’ll grant you the first claim but not the second. Let me know when big balls Colbert dares to inflame Islamists — even in his faux O’Reilly persona — by slamming Brandeis for withdrawing its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the one warrior for women’s rights who has ever put her life on the line for her sisters.
Don’t make me laugh. Colbert is a partisan comic who’d shit his pants if an Islamist called. Hirsi Ali is s a hero. You’ll never hear her name mentioned by brave Catholic boy Colbair.
Or to put it another way, (please do, Kevin) the fact that it’s hard to describe what Stephen does is proof that what Stephen does is indescribable. As Jones said to Nicklaus on another Sunday like this, he plays a game with which we are not familiar. Hard to describe? Not familiar? What bell jar are you living under? “I will pretend to be the voice of that which I despise. Over and over and over again.” Jonathan Swift made his Modest Proposal in 1729. It was new then. It’s hardly new, or hard to describe, nearly 300 years later. Except for the over and over and over again part, which Swift wisely eschewed as boring. Though liberals did invent the over and over again part. Ever heard of Archie Bunker, Kevin? Definitions again. In your lexicon is “indescribable” a synonym of “boring”?
Those who are familiar with the real Stephen will also tell you the real Stephen is just as entertaining as his character, and that after the ascendancy of the nice guys in late night over the last couple months—Jimmy, Seth—one thought came to mind when Stephen got the gig: it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy? The real Stephen? Who is that exactly? The guy who couldn’t even testify before congress as himself but only as an invented TV character? Maybe even the real Stephen has some antipathy to the real Stephen.
Dammit, that was a typo. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Period. You doubted your own question mark. You must be a clever, witty, ironic guy too. Congratulations.
But that hasn’t stopped some conservatives from saying he’s a bad boy, and part of a left-wing conspiracy: that despite Stephen’s near decade as a broad character on Comedy Central—the cable channel that, according to O’Reilly, only stoned slackers watch—he’s really a flame-throwing, Republican-bashing partisan in a highly-choreographed plot perpetrated by liberal CBS. Let’s do some parsing here. You liberals were pretty fond of parsing during the Clinton impeachment era. Nuance. How perjury got transmuted to lying about sex, which absolutely everyone does and hardly matters unless a Republican does it. Mostly, conservatives don’t say he’s a bad boy. They just don’t like him. They think CBS was stupid for putting him in this new slot. Why amputate half your potential audience before you broadcast the first show? Stoned slackers? No, they’re not the only Comedy Channel audience. But they’re a big part of it. Unless you want to round up dozens of your lib friends who watch Stewart and Colbert and actually get their news from other sources as well? “Flame-throwing, Republican-bashing partisan”. Uh, yeah. He is. I’d welcome your rebuttal absent the throwaway implied dismissal. Of course he is.
Among those who didn’t get the joke? Columnist Ben Shapiro, who wrote that Colbert’s act “should be labeled for what it is: vile political blackface.” Which makes me want to label Shapiro’s absurd rhetoric, historical insensitivity, and aggressive fatuousness for what it is. As soon as I think of something. And he’s a Zionist Jew to boot. Probably a lot like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Bill O’Reilly had already weighed in, calling Colbert a “deceiver” and “one of the biggest mouthpieces for the progressive movement.” Papa Bear angry. Let’s see. Why would Papa Bear get angry? Maybe when a parasite makes an entire career out of imitating Papa Bear for laughs. The first few times it’s funny. After a decade it starts to feel like what it is. A freeloader who actively scorns the one he owes the most to. Usually we just call those people teenagers. But when they’re all grown up and riding around in limos, we have to start calling them progressives.
And of course, Rush Limbaugh, who bellowed that “CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America. No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservatism. Now it’s just wide out in the open. What this hire means is a redefinition of what is funny.” Never mind that hearing Rush decide “what is funny” is like hearing Kanye decide “what is modest.” Cool. Good positioning there, Kevin. You’re a centrist because you can snipe at Limbaugh on the right and Kanye on the left. Willing to bet you’ve never listened to Limbaugh live. He doesn’t bellow. He IS funny. His listeners can read his tone of voice. He says things, lots of things, that are designed to be read in transcription by people like you. He doesn’t care much about Stephen Colbert. He’s a professional broadcaster. One of the most successful ever. His audience is bigger than Leno’s or Letterman’s ever were. His point was that CBS is incredibly stupid. As Letterman got more and more vituperative against conservatives and Republicans, his ratings fell. Replacing him with another naked, strident lefty is no way to build a general audience for an entertainment show.
Whether their outrage is real or feigned, one thing is clear: joke’s on them. They don’t know it yet, but I suspect they’ll be happier with the “real Colbert” than the liberal mole they’ve invented in their nightmares. Yes. We’ll be happier if there’s a real Colbert rather than a faux Colbert. Not convinced it’s going to happen, though. A shrewd columnist opined that Stephen Colbert can never show himself. He’ll dispense with the O’Reilly imitation, but he won’t dispense with the camouflage of pretense. He will become the late night host who makes himself a parody of a late night host — a cleaner version of Chelsea Handler, perhaps — making fun of all the conventions and even the cordiality that once enabled Jack Paar and Johnny Carson to define the late night talk medium. The more I think on it, the joke’s on you.
The real Stephen Colbert is a practicing Catholic. (Really? He’s not ‘anti-choice? Do tell.) He teaches Sunday school. He can recite chapter and verse of chapter and verse—from both the King James Bible and The Lord of the Rings. His devotion to family values is rooted in, of all things, valuing his family; he’s a comedian who doesn’t claim many demons, but who has suffered enough family tragedy that even Job might pity the fool. Off screen, he’s just a generous man who cares about people and changes lives for the better; he certainly changed mine. (Thanks to Stephen, I was a writer on The Daily Show for many years, so I’ll keep an ear open for when Limbaugh calls me a sacrilegious partisan for my gall to work that job, and for invoking his Job.) I hope everything you say is true. But men can become creatures of their own fictional devises. Men can do good things and still be villains for what they do not do. Did Colbert ever cover the Gosnell trial, good Catholic boy that you claim he is? Has he ever ceased ridiculing the Christians in flyover country who don’t buy the liberal promises that we should trust progressives more than God? Don’t think so.
The real Colbert isn’t what some people, for some silly reason, seem to fear he might be: a one-trick pony—albeit with one of the most astounding tricks in the history of comedy. And he certainly isn’t who Limbaugh and Shapiro say he is: Keith Olbermann. Time will tell.
He’s Stephen Colbert. Religious. Riotous. Right. So just to tweak Rush Limbaugh, I’ll bet that Stephen will reign for 40 days and 40 nights and then four more years and beyond, and the heartland will be just fine. And in two or three decades we’ll wonder who could possibly replace him. Now, let us all genuflect. Amen.
I’ll close with a brief response to the dismissive “one-trick pony” reference above. It’s a link that should have made unnecessary the whole fisking above. But I already told you I’m grumpy today, and I needed to take it out on somebody. Sorry, Kevin. This from Kyle Smith, my favorite movie and TV reviewer:
Colbert essentially does the same joke over and over (conservatives are morons) and he’s only funny if you accept the premise (conservatives are morons) while you snort Mountain Dew out your nose thinking about what an awesome point he just made. (Conservatives are morons.)
Colbert’s audience is young, but his act gets old after about five minutes, and his legendary ability to “stay in character” is a myth.
What he does is split himself into two personalities. One issues standard liberal boilerplate gleaned from whatever fanciful view of reality is being peddled on Daily Kos or the Huffington Post. No conservative would ever say these things in the first place.
I’ll amend this summary only slightly. Colbert has talent and wit. His conservative moron schtick is funny the first time and maybe even the tenth. But it runs out of steam. Because the animating principle is not about the humor intrinsic in being human. It’s about ridiculing people the would-be humorist feels superior to. That’s what the conservative ruckus has been about. They didn’t watch Letterman because they got tired of being insulted by a Ball State Indiana jerk who was once funny but superior to nobody. They won’t watch Colbert. Believe me, they got his joke long years ago.
Why the story — the real story — is about CBS. Why would you give away half or more of the audience in advance? Conservatives are morons?
Benny Hill had one joke too. But it was universal, not ideological. Still boring, though, after a few iterations. We all know that men are obsessed with breasts, legs, and the naughty bits. How many times do we need to see the leering take of a dirty old man? A question Colbert, no longer young himself, should start asking himself.