Archive for the ‘Obama’ Category

Un-Presidented

March 20, 2009
"How come you don't do 'Iron Jay' anymore? That bit was hilarious!"

"How come you don't do 'Iron Jay' anymore? That bit was hilarious!"

I don’t have a lot to say about President Obama’s Tonight Show appearance, but there’ll never be a better excuse for taking this blog out of mothballs.

Clearly, this is an attempt by Obama to get around what his predecessor infamously referred to as the “filter”–that is, the mainstream news media–in order to speak directly to “the people.” Given how awful the news media has become, I think this is perfectly defensible. Leno let Obama speak at some length, and his questions, while not especially insightful, were no more trivial than those typically heard in The Situation Room, or from the other side of the Meet the Press desk. Leno’s no great shakes as an interviewer, but he knew to keep the focus on  his interviewee, and to stay on topic. Until the last, light-hearted segment, it was a relatively substantive interview.

It was not, however, a challenging one (though Jay deserves credit for poking the Pres. when he appeared to be overselling Geithner’s responsibility for the AIG mess).  It would be interesting to see how Obama would do with Jon Stewart or David Letterman. But that, of course, would defeat the other, less legitimate reason for “reaching out” via late-night TV: it’s not much of a risk. Obama going on Leno is hardly the same as Bush appearing on FOX News, but the probability of tough questioning is about the same–albeit for different reasons. (I’m not suggesting Leno’s “in the tank” for Obama, as Rupert’s crew was for Bush–just that Leno can be counted on to defer to Big Stars, whether from showbiz or politics, in a way that neither Stewart nor Letterman can.)

On the “Special Olympics” gaffe: Jaime Wieman has a good take (I love how he calls ABC jackass Jake Tapper the network’s “senior trivia correspondent”). It was unclear to me whether the joke was merely a self-deprecating comment on that still-low 129 score, or a characterization of Leno’s condescending applause (watch again, and see what you think). If it was the latter, that’s a little more impressive demonstration of quick-wittedness, and wickedness, in the sense of betraying a darker sensibility.

In any event, it was pretty inexcusable. I support Obama, and think he has used humor well, for the most part, but you just don’t do jokes about the Special Olympics on The Tonight Show. Especially if you’re President of the United States.

It Always Comes Down to Jocks vs. Nerds

November 1, 2008

I’ve been griping about Jon Stewart’s McCain-love for some time now, and Thursday night he finally came out and said that if McCain had won the GOP’s nomination in 2000, he would have voted for him, instead of Gore. (The video‘s here, but be warned: you have to watch several minutes of Bill Kristol, love-child of Goebbels and The Joker, to hear the quote.)

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Comedy and “Balance”

October 29, 2008

Today’s installment of NPR’s Fresh Air featured an interview with SNL head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers. He came across as an articulate and pleasant fellow, generous in his praise for colleague Tina Fey, boss Lorne Michaels, and recent guest-star Sarah Palin — and as an uninspired and workman-like creator of mass-market comedy. Seth Meyers is to comedy what an Applebee’s entree is to food: reliably palatable, but nothing memorable.

On further reflection, that’s pretty unfair to Applebee’s. Maybe he’s more like a Denny’s Grand Slam: not great, but readily available and unlikely to make you actually vomit.

Two things from the interview jumped out at me as worthy of comment. First, he called Amy Poehler’s delivery of the Sarah Palin rap (I’m paraphrasing, but this is close) “one of the best performances in the history of Saturday Night Live.”

Okay, maybe the Denny’s comparison is too generous. How about Jack in the Box: usually okay, but with occasional e. coli poisoning.

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Expertise We Can Believe In

October 22, 2008

Long time, no post. I’ll have something more substantial to say soon, but I wanted to pass along this snippet from an Onion AV Club interview with Daily Show “resident expert John Hodgman:

The thing that I find so compelling is that right now Obama’s whole campaign strategy is simply [to] speak to people as though they were adults and trust that the truth of the world situation will be evident to them. For him to be attacked as a friend of a terrorist, for “palling” around with terrorists and to simply go back and say, “No, I’m not”? That was such a refreshing political moment. …I’m enchanted by the idea that a politician can come along and speak simply and clearly and truthfully to an electorate as though they are grown-ups and to feel the electorate respond to that. I’ve found that to be astonishing and especially now that we are in the end game and you see basically the McCain campaign has nothing left but conspiracy theories to throw at Obama. It really has become a fight between fantasy and reality, and although I don’t make my living off of it, I endorse reality.

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Does SNL Pay Attention?

September 29, 2008

To update my last post, nope — McCain’s refusal to look at Obama hasn’t become a thing yet. SNL made no reference to it in their debate sketch, which surprised me, given the attention it had gotten elsewhere. Not only that, they had a joke about Jim Lehrer insisting that the candidates look at each other — not an innaccurate depiction (except I remember him admonishing them to talk to each other more), but an inclusion that made the exclusion of lack-of-eye-contact-gate all the odder.

The return of Tina Fey as Sarah Palin has gotten a lot of attention already, and I can’t add much, save to join the chorus of those noting, as I just heard Joan Walsh say on Hardball, that some of the parody dialogue was pretty much a verbatim transcription of the real interview. The writers didn’t have to work very hard on that one.

Which brings me to today’s question: do the writers of Saturday Night Live even follow the news, beyond the bare minimum their jobs require? I’m not just being snotty because they didn’t go the way I predicted with the debate sketch (and I’ll point out I wasn’t advocating that comedians should focus on the eye-contact business).

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Is This Going to be a Thing?

September 27, 2008

“Hey John — my eyes are up here.”

In the aftermath of the debate, John McCain’s refusal to look directly at Barack Obama is garnering a good deal of attention from pundits and bloggers. My expectation is that this will be something late-night comedy shows pick up and run with, but right now that remains to be seen.

But it is certainly the kind of thing SNL, Leno, Letterman, et al. can latch onto. Moreover, it is the sort of thing comedy can do a lot to amplify, and make consequential. For example, even people who didn’t watch any of the Bush vs. Gore debates knew about Gore’s audible sighs, at least in part because SNL made fun of them. Topical comedy — especially the mainstream, “equal-opportunity offender” sort we see on network TV — always prefers dealing with the silly, the trivial, and the personal over the serious and the substantive. It’s easier to mock, it’s more accessible to people who don’t necessarily follow politics that closely, and it’s relatively uncontroversial, because it doesn’t touch on issues or ideologies. Unfortunately, “journalists” like these sorts of stories for the same reasons.

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WWJSD? (What Will Jon Stewart Do?) updated

September 24, 2008

Updated below

By now you’ve probably heard that Senator McCain has chickened out “suspended” his campaign and unilaterally attempted to postpone Friday’s scheduled debate, so he can hasten to the Capitol (presumably in a celestial chariot, drawn by wing-ed horses) to Save the Republic.

McCain must rid himself of the distraction of debating his opponent, so that he can devote all of his Mojo to solving this crisis (as only a Maverick can!), or we’ll be looking at 12% unemployment, and a depression by Monday.

Never mind that McCain hasn’t cast a Senate vote since April 8. And the fact that he’s slipping in the polls? Pure coincidence.

If the news media falls for this stunt, they are officially beyond redemption. If the public falls for it, we’re beyond stupid.

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Dave Serves Up Ad Hominem Nouveau

September 20, 2008

Pardon my French—and Latin—but I’ve noticed that David Letterman and his writers have introduced a new variation on the kind of joke traditionally told by mainstream, “equal opportunity offender” late-night comics. These are jokes that focus on the personalities of candidates—or really, on one or two caricatured traits—and have, at best, only tangential relevance to the ideologies and policies the candidates represent. The Latin phrase ad hominem (literally, “at the man”), as some of you may have learned in Freshman Comp, is a logical fallacy in which one attempts to win an argument by attacking the person making it. For late-night comedians, the ad hominem strategy allows them to make fun of politicians without really talking about politics. No one can accuse you of “bias” (accepted idiot-speak for “caring enough about an issue to have an opinion”) if instead of dealing with what a politician says about, say, the mortgage crisis, you just make fun of his haircut.

Thus, the hotly-contested and highly consequential 2000 presidential race was, as far as Dave, Jay, Conan, and SNL were concerned, merely a choice between a dumb guy who couldn’t pronounce big words, and a guy who bragged about inventing everything from the Internet to the phrase “Don’t go there, Girlfriend” in a robotic monotone. In 2004 it was the dope vs. the flip-flopper with the rich wife, and in 1996, the womanizing Bubba vs. the old guy who referred to himself in the third person. There were some funny lines along the way, to be sure, but no real satire, because none of this was really political—it was just personal.

And that is the case with this new subset of Letterman jokes, too. But they are, at least, a different—and, if only because of their novelty—more interesting form of ad hominem jokes. Yet they proceed from the unfairest basis of all: physical appearance:

I kind of like that Sarah Palin. You know, she reminds me, she looks like the flight attendant who won’t give you a second can of Pepsi…. She looks like the weekend anchor on Channel 9. She looks like the hygienist who makes you feel guilty about not flossing. She looks like the relieved mom in a Tide commercial.

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Jon Stewart: MSM’s Last McCain-Lover?

September 17, 2008

Josh Marshall’s TPM has another entry in its “Tire-Swing Watch” — a running tally of media members once enchanted with John McCain who have finally quit giving him the benefit of the doubt. Today’s disenchanted former fan is The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, whose column is well worth checking out. It seems McCain’s extraordinarily dishonest campaign has not only caused Marcus to question his “Maverick” bona fides, it has emboldened her to utter what is, in the MainStream Media world, the ultimate heresy: “balance” does not equal fairness.

This may be a Copernicus moment: a challenge to conventional wisdom that could, if enough other media members pick up on it, or stumble upon it themselves (as Galileo did with heliocentrism), could fundamentally change their picture of the universe — and thus, the picture they present to the public.

This would be a welcome change. The practice of reporting every devious political tactic with the qualifier, “both sides do it” attached has nothing to do with fairness or thoroughness, and everything to do with preempting partisan critics who will cry “Bias!” any time their candidate is caught.

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A Friendly Reminder

September 16, 2008

I’ve got a book:

Dave vs. Sarah

September 12, 2008

I don’t have a lot to say about Barack Obama’s appearance on Letterman the other night. He did okay. He had a few moments of genuine, off-the-cuff wittiness, and managed to deliver some planned zingers (like the one about Sarah Palin’s actually being the lipstick in the pig/lipstick metaphor) with elan. Most important, he didn’t embarrass himself: no gaffes, and he didn’t seem to be trying too hard. Sometimes politicians–and newsfolk, who in spite of the fact that they’re on camera for a living, can be surprisingly dumb about this–try way too hard to be funny when they appear on late-night shows.

With Letterman, though, there’s an added danger. Though he shares the anti-political, pseudo-satirical, “equal-opportunity offender” approach to comedy with Leno, Conan, Craig, Kimmel, and Carson before them, he’s capable of giving a guest–even an “important” one–a good grilling, when he feels like it.

Whether he feels like it is completely dependent on whether he likes you–he, the “real” David Letterman, from Indiana. Which is why, even though in some respects he’s been coasting for years, he’s still worth watching. He’s gotten to the point where he can fake it pretty well with movie and TV celebs he doesn’t care for, but when he’s talking to a “serious” guest, he can’t hide his respect or lack thereof.

He likes Obama: the interview was substantive (consider it’s a late-night comedy show, I mean), but not very tough. When they returned from the post-interview commercial break (which is often where you really find out how Dave feels), he called Obama “smart” (Paul pronounced him “smooth”–which may or may not be strictly a compliment, coming from him).

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