The Colbert Report


in Politics

Watching the Jeffrey Sachs interview, I was reminded of the biggest limitation in the Colbert Report concept. For those who don’t know, it’s a satirical news show in which Stephen Colbert plays the role of a right wing demagogue news anchor. His outrageous support for the Bush administration and his general ability to criticize things by advocating them in ridiculous terms is very funny. By adopting the style and arguments of talking heads in the right wing media, he is able to ridicule both them and the policies they support.

The trouble is, when he has a guest who he obviously respects, the act falls apart. This definitely happened when he tried to interview Sachs while in character. By contrast, look at how Jon Stewart on The Daily Show behaves when he has a guest like Kissinger or Albright. He is always rather kinder to them and more deferential than you would expect, given his generally critical attitude. While you could justly criticize or make fun of either former Secretary of State, doing so when they are actually a guest would be neither funny nor satisfying.

Contrast this funny segment with the Sachs interview. (Both only available in Windows Media format, sorry.)

That said, with the exception of awkward interviews, the Colbert Report is a really solid piece of comedy.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous March 7, 2006 at 1:03 am
R.K. March 7, 2006 at 1:43 am

As this interview explains:

“By his own admission, Stephen Colbert specializes in playing “high-status idiots,” a niche he refined as a venerable correspondent on The Daily Show and perfects as the host of The Colbert Report, a Daily Show spin-off that adroitly satirizes Bill O’Reilly’s bullying media-age demagoguery.”

“AVC: When you interview people on the show, you’re interviewing them in character. How do the guests respond to that?

SC: Some know what to do and some don’t. Some people want to be faithful and kind of making fun, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think it makes guests more nervous than they would be on another show. You go on Charlie Rose, and it’s gonna be standard questioning and you can just respond, but people aren’t entirely sure whether my character likes what they have to say or not. They don’t know whether there’s gonna be a moment of attack journalism. I try not to make it that way. I try to make it as comfortable as possible.”

Milan March 7, 2006 at 1:53 am

“I try to make it as comfortable as possible.”

That’s exactly the problem. These interviews force him to break character in a show where every joke is based on it being maintained.

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