Fool: All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou wast born with.
King Lear (I, iv)
Much of the reaction to Stephen Colbert’s speech centers around whether it was funny or not. But audience reaction is subjective and, to a large degree, beside the point. If Dana Milbank wants to think that Colbert wasn’t funny, fine. That’s his prerogative. He can claim that Colbert bombed because he had the "misfortune of following the president whose performance was so much better” – but let’s face it: who isn’t going to laugh at the president? Isn’t that what’s expected? Isn’t that what the whole farce is about? It’s like that moment in the Soprano’s when Tony tells a joke at a dinner party: the camera pulls back and there’s this slow motion pan of Tony looking around the room as everyone laughs. Why are these people laughing? Because he’s the boss and he’ll cut their fucking heads off. Those are the rules. Colbert broke them and rubbed everyone’s face in it.
The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday, that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change, this man’s beliefs never will. And as excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of fox news.Colbert killed. That’s what happened in that room. We saw the president get shot (figuratively speaking), the press get bitch-slapped, and it was a magnificent thing to behold. Frankly, Colbert’s humor is in better taste than the President’s act from last year where he went looking under tables for WMD’s. That act continues to kill – as of today 2,200 American soldiers dead and over 20,000 wounded, and at least 38,000 Iraqis. To all those who have lost a loved one, just remember this – dying is easy, comedy is hard. Cold comfort, but that’s what flags are for.
Fox News gives you sides of every story, the president’s side and the vice president’s side.
But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on N.S.A. Wiretapping or secret prisons in Eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason, they’re super depressing.
And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good over tax cuts, W.M.D. Intelligence, the affect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.
But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know fiction.
Why has the press ignored Colbert? Because he beat them into a corner. Basically, mass media has an amazing ability to absorb subversive material and repackage it as product. Bill Hicks acknowleged this in his routine when he suggested that everyone in the audience who worked in marketing should:
"Suck a tailpipe. Hang yourself. Borrow a pistol from an NRA buddy. Rid the world of your evil fucking presence. OK, back to the show. You know what bugs me though, is that everyone here who's in marketing is thinking the same thing, 'Oh cool, Bill's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a huge market.'"Colbert was subversive, but at this point, his performance transcends anything the press has to throw at it. All they can do is ignore it or claim it isn't funny.
For a stand-up comedian’s perspective, go check out John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey.
I’m going to leave you with a couple of quotes by Dario Fo from The Tricks of the Trade,
“today’s clown has lost both his ancient capacity to shock and his political moral commitment. In other times the clown used satire as a vehicle of violence, cruelty, hypocrisy and injustice. Centuries ago, he was an obscene, diabolical figure.”Or, in Colbert's case, maybe a wiry guy with glasses?
“’Comics, always deal with the same problem – hunger, be it hunger for food, sex, or even for dignity, for identity, for power. The problem they invariably propose is – who’s in command, who’s the boss?”Well, now we know.