Tuesday, May 02, 2006

TV: All Colbert All The Time

Stephen Colbert’s “balls-alicious” White House Correspondents Dinner performance (to use Jon Stewart’s word) is still the hot topic at Technorati. Me, I can’t get enough of it. I even went to the Huffington Post to gauge reaction there, and I hate the Huffington Post.

Colbert’s set is seen in some quarters as a pop culture watershed ignored by the mainstream media, in others as an epic flameout. Screenwriter and erstwhile stand-up John Rogers, in a great piece, says that it’s already becoming the stuff of legend among comics.

All of which says two things to me, one cultural, one political. Colbert was able to be fearless in his approach because he knew that even if the crowd in the Hilton didn’t respond, his performance would be circulating on the web within minutes. That’s the audience Colbert was playing to; the media swells in the ballroom almost didn’t matter.

Nothing is underground anymore. It used to be you’d hear stories about a one-of-a-kind, you-had-to-be-there show. Now, Gilbert Gottfried’s fabled rendition of a filthy joke leads to an entire movie. Colbert subverts a staid venue televised on C-SPAN and the results are instantly immortalized, giving him credibility for life.

It’s also proof of a burgeoning political sensibility spawned by Comedy Central. Not just The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, but South Park and Chappelle’s Show. Programs that declare shenanigans on the pomp of American politics, and in so doing demand that the media treat viewers (and voters) like adults. It’s a mindset that works both sides of the aisle; South Park has a pronounced libertarian/conservative streak, and The Daily Show regularly takes aim at Democrats, admittedly like shooting tranquilized fish in a barrel. It’s a kind of thinking that demands that when you go to the WHCD, you call it out for the poisonous little barbecue it is.

An entire generation is being formed by those shows. I can’t wait to see what politics and the WHCD are like when they take over.