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The Daily Show 

Sure, speaking truth to power can be funny — but not nearly as funny as making fun of the powerless and crazy.

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Poor conservatives. They’ve had to endure eight years of mockery, all in the name of truth-to-power speaking. The cruelest part: It was deadly funny.

Where before, mainstream political satire was limited to har-hars about Clinton’s cigar, Daily Show host Jon Stewart slung jokes about log-rolling and gerrymandering. Humor got downright wonky.

But as America descended further into the Bush years, The Daily Show lost its gleam.

Stewart’s anger — anger at Bush, anger at the yahoos who voted for him — began to overwhelm the comedy. Video clips increasingly cut back to Jon Stewart’s smug/smoldering face, instead of one-liners, as if to say, “This doesn’t even deserve a joke.” At least once, Stewart let out an angry primal scream. There was a sense of apathetic resignation to The Daily Show.

But then came Obama to save the day. Stewart became downright giddy — hopped up on Hope-with-a-capital-H. Suddenly, there was a renewed vigor to his punch lines. Some comedians are best when spittin’ mad. Stewart’s best when jaunty and whimsical.

But with the Democrats firmly entrenched, has The Daily Show begun to speak truth to the new power? Not really.

When Republicans do something silly, The Daily Show mocks the Republicans. When Democrats do something silly, it mocks the Republicans’ silly reaction to the Democrats’ silliness. And when Stewart does mock liberals, it’s usually for being not liberal enough. At its core, The Daily Show is a comedic op-ed column — its perspective unchanged.

Plus, Obama posed a problem: He wasn’t an easy joke. Bush is dumb, Clinton is sleazy, Gore is boring, McCain is old, Obama is… is… black?

Falling approval ratings killed the “Obama as Messiah” narrative.

The “overuses the teleprompter” joke was one-note. Opponents’ criticisms are contradictory: He’s a naïve pacifist who spent his Nobel Peace Prize speech giving a thumbs-up to war. He’s a do-nothing president, who’s trying to change everything.

There were easier butts of easier jokes: the tea-partiers, the conspiracy loons, Joe Wilson. Sarah Palin, like a beloved gimmicky sitcom character that producers clumsily integrate into a spinoff, remained inexplicably in the public eye.

And The Daily Show’s comedic guns remain fixed on these very large targets.

Sure, speaking truth to power can be funny — but not nearly as funny as making fun of the powerless and crazy. And “funny” — more than balance or iconoclasm or changing the world— is The Daily Show’s purpose.

TIVO-WORTHY

Chuck TV critics have several superlatives in their word-bag. They can call a TV show “the best” or “the funniest” or the “most heart-wrenching.“ But perhaps, for the popcorn-popping audience, the highest praise is the adjective critics affixed to action comedy Chuck last year: the most consistently entertaining show on TV. (Premieres Sunday, Jan. 10, 9 pm on NBC)

Blue Mountain State “At Blue Mountain State,” the grizzly Spike TV advertising announcer growls, “only two things matter. Football and scoring.” By “scoring,” they mean sex. And by “football,” they mean “thin premise as an excuse to make jokes about sex.” Blue Mountain State’s one of those shows that makes games of “guess that network” all the easier. (Premieres Sunday, Jan. 10, 9 pm on Spike TV)

Big Love Big Love is the touching story about the love between a man and his wife… and wife… and wife. In this critically acclaimed drama, Bill Hendrickson (Bill Paxton) lives in a religious compound of his own creation with three, count ’em three — wives. (Imagine, instead of just one, three women yelling at you to pick up your underwear off the bathroom fl o o r) . (Premieres Sunday, Jan. 10, 9 pm on HBO)

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