Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A job performance review for our Comedians-In-Chief

Posted by on Wed, Nov 3, 2010 at 12:27 PM

click to enlarge Stewart_Colbert.jpg
In the lead-up to Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity and StephenColbert's March to Keep Fear Alive, pundits found themselves flummoxed.Is he being a comedian? Or is he being serious? 

Silly pundits. Seventy-five percent of the time, comedy isserious. Comedy — even when it comes to the most banal airline-foodjokes — are serious points and observation filtered through the mediumof "joke."  

Comedy matters. It colors our narrative. It propelspoints of national conversation. It brings us together or, more often, drives us apart.

With another election under our belt, it's time tograde the performance of our National Jesters. 

The Rally toRestore Sanity, in many ways, was a sort of season finale for The DailyShow and The Colbert Report. It was an exaltation of what they'daccomplished. It was a third aren't-we-clever celebration, a thirdsilly comedy, and a third unvarnished plea for reasonability.  

That's about the formula The Daily Show has been using for the last year. It's part of why this past year has been one of the strongest for The Daily Show.  

Thereare other reasons, of course. Part of it is the political landscape, which is perfect for Stewart's brand of comedy. He's best when he's nottoo idealistic (as he was in the buildup to 2008's presidentialelection). And he's best when he's not too despairing (as he was whenhe spent some segments in 2007 simply screaming in agony after playinga George W. Bush video clip). —-

The most fun form of cynicism is created when an idealist — a romantic — meets reality. 

He not only landed an interview with President Barack Obama, but heasked him tough questions. Not out of an attempt at balanceor objectivity, but because he's frustrated. Stewart is not attempting to provide balance, after all. He's a pundit,with jokes. But occasionally, when Stewart sets his sights on rippinginto the media, the jokes are weak, or even non-existent. Stewart's (ofteneasy) critiques of the media remain his strongest segmentsargumentatively, but his weakest segments, comedically. 

Ontop of that, this has been the strongest Daily Show correspondent staffsince the days of Colbert and Coordry. Aasif Mandvi and Wyatt Cenac (especially in their "Team Jesus"/"Team Mohammed" point/counterpoints) are not only funny, they seem capable of creating their own comedicangles and refining their own comedic personas.  

Newcorrespondent Olivia Munn, however, is not. She gets laughs, but that'sbecause the people writing her lines are funny, not because herdelivery is. She's a far cry from the much more capable Samantha Bee.  

The Colbert Report, meanwhile, hasn't been as strong as The Daily Show.

After five years of parodying Bill O'Reilly,Colbert often seems constrained by his character. The ascent of GlennBeck provided more fodder for Colbert's parody, but Beck's hyper-earnest,extremely-emotional-school-teacher character is very different fromColbert's Limbaugh/O'Reilly shtick. 

But by now, he's taken hischaracter — and his character's ego — everywhere it can go. Heck, two years ago, he ran for president. 

The Daily Show, on the other hand, can adopt Colbert's farcical reactionary views via its correspondents (who assume whatever political belief a sketch requires), but it can adopt any number of other fresh comedic angles, too. Colbert, for the most part is stuck. His show relies more onwordplay and Leno-style rimshot comedy than it should. Despite thecreativity of the Colbert Report staff, the premise is beginning to show its limitations. 

That said, Colbert had one of the best sketches of the entire year, in which he unveiled his rather elaborate scheme to thwart gay marriage.

Final grades?

The Daily Show: A-
The Colbert Report: B-


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