Irony warriors

I was thinking as I read my beloved London papers that the biggest separation between Mother England and child America is irony; they’re so much better at it than we are.

But then there’s Stephen Colbert. Michael Scherer writes at Salon about Colbert’s performance at the White House press party:

Then he turned to the president of the United States, who sat tight- lipped just a few feet away. “I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound — with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.”

It was Colbert’s crowning moment. His imitation of the quintessential GOP talking head — Bill O’Reilly meets Scott McClellan — uncovered the inner workings of the ever-cheapening discourse that passes for political debate. He reversed and flattened the meaning of the words he spoke.

  • from “immigrants all” to “mother england, child america?”

  • I dunno. The argument against Clinton was that he cheapened the office; few of us thought that attacking him would accelerate that cheapening so far.

    The President of the United States represents all of us. If we’re dissatisfied with him, does that mean we should take every available opportunity to mock him? To what degree does standing by Constitutional form mean learning to respect the legitimacy of individuals we don’t like?

    Just a thought.

  • Sherard

    I saw some of it and his dry satire, while amusing, is far FAR funnier in the enclaves of the Daily Show and Colbert Report. By all accounts – except this one, so far – Colbert bombed.

  • Pete Moss

    If the measure of a satirical performance is the reaction of the target at the time, then perhaps he did bomb, but how many timeless works of satire and irony were panned by thoes targeted at first reading. I think in time this will stand out as one of the few razor sharp satires in this era where political wit and discourse consists of shrill bombast and name calling at ever increasing decibel levels

  • Colbert went in there and he did something very brave. He went after his entire audience. Nobody went unscathed. The fact that he actually got a few laughs was impressive. When I watched it, I alternated between laughter and disbelief at Colbert’s nerve. Made my day.

  • Pete Moss, that’s what I’m always telling people — this may not seem funny right now, but I’m ahead of my time. Perhaps you’ll find it funny next year.

  • Taeyoung

    Re: Goldstein,

    Colbert went in there and he did something very brave. He went after his entire audience.

    I didn’t see the presentation video (have just seen transcripts), but that seems like what happened. I mean, considering it was consequence-free, I think “brave” is a little overwrought, but still . . .

    I mean, the selection Jarvis excerpts above is actually fairly clever, and, well-delivered, would be quite funny. Unless, I suppose, you’re part of the political establishment, or part of the Washington media circus, in which case a significant chunk of your life is probably taken up by inane photo-ops — either staging them or attending them to write articles about them and make them worth-doing. So there’s nothing to laugh at, whether you’re liberal or conservative, or anything in between, since he’s making a pointed mockery of your entire media-centric livelihood.

    It’s people standing outside of the immediate political fray, as it were, who are likely to find it the most amusing. But we watch him on television (or, in my case, on the internet); it was all media and political grandees in his audience. No wonder he bombed.

  • Alan

    I saw a bit of this on the CSPAN, and while Colbert’s material, as usual, varied widely on the ha-ha-humor/pointedness/satire/irony map (with occasionally inspired flourishes like the one Jeff quoted), I confess it was damned hard to actually watch this most humor-deficient president, while suffering catastrophic popularity ratings, take the relentless abuse (it went on sooo long) on everything from policy to persona. It was bizarre and not a little unsettling. There is little doubt as to Colbert’s personal opinions of this administration. Political satire delivered face to face (even in such a manufactured setting where all is in fun so no holds are barred) comes too close to aggression to make for a comedy performance. (Thus, the question of whether he ‘bombed’ is the least interesting aspect and of importance only for his agent and booker.) And I don’t know if it was bravery or not, but as Stephen Colbert might say, That man has some grande cajones.

  • owl

    Considering we have elections every 4 years that even decide The Decider, there is nothing you can call this performance except Crass, Crude and Cheap. I have read the most asinine remarks about courage, truth to power, steel spine, etc. I assume these people think they have no other avenue to vent their political opinions. Next time try TV, Congressional Hearings, newspapers, protest marches, talk radio, news conferences or the 10,001 blogs. If all else fails, they can always avail themselves of the political rallies held in black churches and funerals.

    It was about manners and insults. They invited a very busy man and his wife and the President held up his end of this tradition by poking and ridiculing himself for the enjoyment of all. Then something got up and hurled insults to his face and also his wife’s. Shameful.

    It was simply embarrassing. So embarrassing that even that particular audience squirmed. It was suppose to be funny. That was the price of the ticket. Even the last inappropriate funeral rally was funnier.

  • Wyatt Wingfoot

    Colbert’s performance was pure meta-humour. Funny without the laughs. His act wasn’t very polished, either. Too many flubs. I like his former Daily Show cohort Steven Carell much better. The Office knocks The Colbert Report‘s dick in the dirt, period. And Carell doesn’t take himself very seriously, either.

    Colbert fancies himself a new age ironic pundit that can skewer the right from the right. Um, I get it, and it gets old, fast.