Thursday, June 15, 2006

TV: The Tonight Show Smackdown

The prospect of Ann Coulter and George Carlin on the same talk show couch had people salivating. I knew fireworks weren’t in the offing for three reasons.

1. It’s The Tonight Show. Nothing interesting ever happens on The Tonight Show.

2. Carlin doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody.

3. He is, at heart, a neighborhood Irish Catholic guy from New York. And one thing we’re taught is never be disrespectful to women in public.

Jay Leno isn’t the best interviewer, but he did ask Coulter if her caustic language about the 9/11 widows obscured her point. Because, like it or not, she has one. A small point, but a valid one. (John Tierney explicates it nicely in this piece behind the NY Times’ Select wall.)

Coulter replied by slamming the mainstream media and trumpeting her book’s sales figures. That rote response only lends credence to the charge – leveled by the Times’ David Carr and Andrew Sullivan, among many others – that she’s an empty provocateur who doesn’t believe what she says. Sullivan goes so far as to call her “a fictional character.”

And she is. She’s the anti-Stephen Colbert. He began as a comic figure who, in the wake of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, became a force to be reckoned with. Coulter started as a semi-serious pundit and devolved into a joke. And not a funny one, based on her appearance last night.

Leno’s audience was on her side, though, which makes sense considering The Tonight Show’s demographics. Frankly, I was glad to see it. It makes for a nice change of pace from the crowds at The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. I’m a fan of both programs, but the self-love from those studio audiences grates on my nerves.

I only tuned in last night because my girl KT Tunstall was the musical guest. She engaged Coulter by taping a sign that read “This Machine Kills Fascists” to her guitar in tribute to Woody Guthrie. I never got that sentiment. I suppose if you swung, say, a Fender Stratocaster at the right angle you could take down a blackshirt. But that’s only one fascist. Unless the guitar broke in such a way that the neck could be used to stab another one, in which case you could get away with pluralizing. But that’s not a given. Those guitars are really well made.