Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert

At the end of most days, V. and I sit down to dinner with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. We record the episodes everyday, and though our recorder is almost full, we are reluctant to delete a single episode.

Jon Stewart is the one who first got me interested. The Daily Show... with Jon Stewart airs on Comedy Central. The humour of the show derives chiefly from showing the ridiculous inequitable and self-preserving aspects of the American socio-political process. Stewart is smart and passionate, a great combination. He mostly pillories the conservative, subaltern-hating American politicians and thinkers, who are both more outrageous and more popular than one would have imagined. Though not technically news, it has become the major source of news for a majority of its audience.

One of the candidates for the Republican Primary floated the idea of having an electric fence around parts of the American border to stop illegal immigration from Mexico. Another suggested that "kids of people who live in inner-cities and do not work", code for African-Americans, should be given jobs "cleaning toilets in schools" so that they "know that there are job options beyond being prostitutes, pimps or drug runners". One would think such outrageous remarks were jokes thought up by a comedian, but these are all suggestions by potential candidates for President, and the one who is outraged is the comedian.

Here is a video that gives some idea of the daily show:

There are very few videos from The Daily Show and of The Colbert Report on Youtube, though there are interviews and speeches of both Stewart and Colbert. All of their videos are available on their website, but are unavailable here in Australia. If they can be viewed from your location, I recommend:
http://www.thedailyshow.com/collections/best-videos-2011?itemId=394982 and http://www.colbertnation.com/

And then there's Stephen Colbert. Ah, Colbert! While it was Jon Stewart who drew me in, we are now both on team Colbert. Colbert was a writer/presenter on The Daily Show before he got his own show, and Stewart is the executive producer of Colbert's show. In The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert plays a character called 'Stephen Colbert'. This persona/character is a parody of conservative political commentators like Bill O'Reilly. Colbert's character is an ill-informed, prejudiced, xenophobic person who has strong opinions on everything and everybody without needing any facts to back those opinions up. Colbert rarely misses a beat, and he's always in character.

The intelligence of the writing on this show shines through. Colbert's willful ignorance is a constant satire on lack of thinking, and he takes right-wing positions to an extreme, highlighting their insecurity, foolishness and hostility. Not just that, Colbert loves playing with language at every opportunity, which I love. The show started in 2005, and the Bush Presidency was grist to Colbert's mill. He coined the word 'truthiness', which is a "truth that you know instinctively, from your gut, without regard to evidence." It is truthiness which supports the Iraqi invasion, for truthiness reassures you that there are Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. My favorite is 'wickiality', which is 'when Wikipedia becomes our most trusted reference source, reality is what the majority agree upon'.

Colbert frequently takes on the political system. American political parties can be supported by a Political Action Committee (PAC), and a SuperPAC, which can spend an unlimited amount of money on a candidate, making ads and so on. Colbert has started his own SuperPAC, done it legally and step by step on the show. Over episodes, the SuperPAC segments have revealed the bare bones of how big money influences the political process.

In 2006, Colbert was invited to speak at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and I wonder how many heads later rolled for the invitation. He stayed in character throughout, and at the height of American dissatisfaction with the American invasion of Iraq, he proclaimed his admiration for President Bush while making him squirm. Here's the entire speech:

Colbert is hilarious, and I've reached a point where I start smiling as soon as I see him, before he's said a single word. V. gifted me a copy of Colbert's I am America (And So Can You) for my birthday this year. And I am going to gift him a T-shirt that says "My wife only married me because she couldn't marry Stephen Colbert." Stewart and Colbert make me laugh at things while simultaneously despairing over them, illuminating the sordid nature of the beast we all inhabit.