Posts Tagged ‘Letterman’

Can Comedy “Humanize” Anybody?

October 23, 2008

Sarah Palin’s cameo on SNL doesn’t seem to have moved the needle very much, on way or the other, in terms of the public’s perception of the GOP VP candidate. To borrow a very nice turn of phrase from New Hampshire journalist/blogger Gina Carbone, I don’t think it will turn out to be her “saxophone moment.” It was probably both too little (she didn’t risk very much in her two rather staid spots on the show) and too late for that.

Still, she came off reasonably well: she looked like a good sport, didn’t trip over her lines, seemed to be in on all the jokes, and generally performed like the former broadcast professional she is (given her train-wreck performance in unscripted interviews, it’s easy to forget she was once a TV sportscaster — as long as she’s got a teleprompter, she’s fine). Indeed, Lorne Michaels said afterward that Palin could easily have “her own show” — a compliment, though perhaps a back-handed one. (Though if, as Mark Evanier speculates, Palin has given up on succeeding Cheney and is instead gunning to be the next Ann Coulter, I guess she passed the audition.)

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This Just In: Brian Williams is a Tool: UPDATED

October 4, 2008

UPDATE: A commentator has suggested Williams was merely comparing the two current candidates with Eisenhower and Kennedy, rather than mistakenly suggesting Eisenhower ran against Kennedy. I don’t think so, but you can watch for yourself, beginning at about the 3:22 mark. For a transcription, see below.

I just heard Brian Williams—twice—compare the contest between John McCain and Barack Obama to “Eisenhower/Kennedy.” The chief problem with this comparison is of course that Eisenhower never ran against Kennedy. Nixon ran against Kennedy.

Even a network anchor can be expected to misspeak once in a while, of course. But Williams said it twice, and even took time in between to explain the basis of his erroneous comparison: experience vs. new blood.

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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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John McCain: Master Thespian

September 27, 2008

I’ve been critical of Jon Stewart for what I perceive as a tendency to pull his punches when dealing with John McCain. But The Daily Show did a pretty good job responding to McCain’s ridiculous and reckless “suspension” of his campaign.

There’s still a tendency, shared by many “straight” pundits and late-night comics, to treat McCain 08’s excesses as strange anomalies—as if McCain himself is somehow not responsible for them. Even as Letterman was pummeling McCain for his dishonesty about jetting off to DC the other night, he put it in these terms. This was not, Dave said, “the John McCain I know.”

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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:

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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