Yesterday, since I was sick and stuck in bed with only a laptop and a wireless DSL connection and needed entertainment, I finally watched the video of Stephen Colbert’s now-legendary speech at the White House Press Corps Dinner. Yes, I’m a little behind the times. Fortunately, quite a lot of people seem to still be talking about it, so I’m not so late as to be irrelevant.

And yes, I thought it was brave and funny material. And yes, he deserves the praise he’s gotten from the left side of the fence for chiding the president along with the puppy-dog press.

But what I’m having trouble with is the notion that everyone was so shocked by Colbert’s performance. Didn’t everyone know in advance that Colbert was going to do something like this? Did the President, the First Lady, and all the administration show up completely unaware that Stephen Colbert was speaking, and that his bit would most likely skewer everyone present?

I’m not a complete political novice — I’ve seen more than a few episodes of “The West Wing,” after all — so I don’t think I’m entirely off-base when I imagine that the whole agenda may have been elaborately conceived as a way to make the president seem a little more human, a little more likable. After all, Bush’s own presentation, complete with Bush impersonator, used some of the same self-mocking jabs as Colbert’s.

So what am I missing in all the hubbub?

About Stephen Colbert: Am I missing something?

5 thoughts on “About Stephen Colbert: Am I missing something?

  • May 12, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    I would bet that with the arrogance of the Bush Regime, and the complicity expected by all the tame news people, they expected Colbert to play along just like the rest of them. It wouldn’t even surprise me to find out that Colbert had intentionally given them that impression in order to get to do what he did.

  • May 12, 2006 at 12:56 pm

    My assumption was that they probably thought Colbert would tone it down for the dinner. I also don’t think they expected him to do a full 20 minutes in full character. My guess is that they expected gentle ribbing, but nothing like the Hindenberg joke. It probably started out as a way to show they were “good sports”, but they (administration) underestimated how far Colbert would go with Bush sitting right ther.

  • May 12, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    All of the commentary I read about this that didn’t come from the left (and I’m a leftie myself!) said that while it was definitely funny and in your face, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for this dinner and was probably only getting so much publicity because it’s Colbert. Plus, it wasn’t just Bush-bashing, it was genuinely funny as well.

    They always make light of the President at this press dinner. It was a pretty scathing speech, but I don’t think it was that unexpected at all.

  • May 12, 2006 at 5:18 pm

    I think you’re using too much logic when you compare the tone of the Colbert speech with the Bush self-skewering. I think the childhood phrase that speaks to dishing it out, but being unwilling to accept a dish served by another, applies in this instance.

    Interesting what says about non-left commentary – everything I’ve read about response has quoted various admin mouthpieces who apparently believed that the problem with the routine wasn’t that Colbert’s meta monologue was so lacerating, but that it supposedly wasn’t funny. See, they’re not upset because he skewered them, but because his humor just wasn’t up to par.

    A quote from Mary Matalin, taken from an article in the NYT (that I think you have to be a subscriber to read, so I’m sharing):

    ”This was predictable, Bush-bashing kind of humor,” Ms. Matalin, who was there, said in an interview. Of Mr. Colbert, she said, ”Because he is who he is, and everyone likes him, I think this room thought he was going to be more sophisticated and creative.”

    There have been a lot of these backhanded compliments, i.e., “We really do like him ever so much, even if he isn’t funny enough for our discerning tastes.” Since I imagine that Bush’s idea of funny includes toilet jokes and Larry the Cable Guy, I am not buying this line of gentle disapproval from anyone. Including from the left, where there are also a number of spokespersons claiming that they didn’t laugh even once. Well, I didn’t laugh, either, if you want to be technical about it. I did, however, gasp in horrified delight on any number of occasions. I was more than half expecting Mr. Colbert’s mike to be unplugged, or for someone to chastise him and forcibly expel him from the auditorium.

    Frankly, I found it a little scary (and thrilling) to see someone I don’t even know being so blatantly disrespectful in such a marvelously blameless way. IMO, the things he said at the press dinner were overall much more cutting and directed than the jokes he makes on his own show. While I’m sure that the tone of prior press dinners has been irreverent, even mocking, I just don’t think Al Franken’s type of humor compares, transgression-wise, with someone acting the part of an administration cheerleader who supports his points by embracing all of said administration’s most grotesque errors and articulating them in excruciating detail. And of all the political regimes I’ve lived through (oh, like I’m some sort of war-weary soldier!), this is the most self-inflated, insecure and defensive group of chuckleheads yet, so I’m even more impressed.

    Yeah, enough. Let’s see each other soon.

  • May 14, 2006 at 7:59 pm

    Yer so smart. I like what you said. Makes sense. Especially the part about seeing each other soon.


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