Posts Tagged ‘late-night’

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.

Don’t Mess With Dave

September 25, 2008

“Something doesn’t smell right.” That may well stand as the public’s verdict on John McCain’s surprising “suspension” of his campaign yesterday. Perhaps it will even end up being McCain’s political epitaph.

Lyndon Johnson knew he’d lost the public’s mandate when he “lost” Walter Cronkite. With this judgment, McCain just lost David Letterman.

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The Immigrant

September 23, 2008

I’m not sure what to think of Craig Ferguson, but my old friend Radio Steve* sent me this clip, which I found pretty interesting.

I’ll confess that I haven’t watched Ferguson very much. If I’m up at that hour, and up for more comedy after Stewart & Colbert, my usual fare, I’ll watch Conan. Ferguson’s too cute, too frenetic, too dependent on being liked, for my liking. I don’t mean that he comes across as desperate for our approval; it’s just that his appeal is based on personality, rather than material or a particular comic point of view. To borrow Eric Idle‘s useful categorization, Ferguson is a “red nose” comic, as opposed to the “white face” types we’re used to seeing as late-night hosts.

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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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A Friendly Reminder

September 16, 2008

I’ve got a book: