Sunday, April 30, 2006

TV: Now That’s Appointment Television

Every blogger in the free world is weighing in on Stephen Colbert’s no-holds-barred performance at last night’s White House Correspondents Dinner. That means I get to, as well.

Popular opinion holds that The Colbert Report is not as funny as The Daily Show. I’ll skip The Daily Show on occasion, but I never miss Colbert. That’s because in addition to satire, you get top-notch acting. After appearing on the show MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann said that Colbert goes so deep into his caricature of know-nothing opinionator “Stephen Colbert” that it’s terrifying. I await the day when Colbert’s constant pushing of BLTs erupts in an Armstrong Williams-style payola scandal. I knew Colbert had created a richly imagined world when a guest, former CIA head James Woolsey, referred to Colbert’s campaign against bears. (Jaime Weinman makes a compelling case for Colbert as contemporary TV’s answer to Archie Bunker.)

Every year you hear that hosting the Academy Awards is a tough gig. Nuts to that. Serving as the entertainment at this dinner is as rough as it gets for a comedian. The people in attendance aren’t interested in hearing someone funny; they want to prove that they have a sense of humor about themselves. That ain’t the same thing.

It makes sense that Colbert would appear at the dinner as “Stephen Colbert.” What doesn’t make sense is why organizers of the dinner would want him there. His shtick consists of offering rabid support to conservatives and President Bush that does far more harm than good, and shaming the press. Having him do so in front of the President and every media luminary in Washington isn’t a good idea for anyone except Colbert himself, who demonstrated, in the language of the Colbert Nation, muchos huevos grandes.

Colbert wasn’t great last night – his videotaped audition to be press secretary ran too long – but he was very good. He clearly knew his material wasn’t going over well and didn’t seem to care. If anything, it only drove him further into his oblivious character, which to me made it funnier.

I have the feeling that he’ll come out of this stronger than ever. Capitol Hill staffers have been urging their bosses to appear on his “Better Know A District” segments. Come Monday, his phone should be ringing off the hook. And next year, the Correspondents Dinner can book Steve Irwin to put an ocelot on Dick Cheney’s head. Or maybe they can get Gallagher. Because, Democrat or Republican, everybody loves Gallagher.