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April 30, 2006

All Hail Colbert

Shakes here…

If you missed Stephen Colbert’s vicious takedown of Bush and the press at last night’s White House Press Correspondents dinner, I encourage you to head on over to Crooks and Liars and watch what they’ve got of it right now. You may also be able to catch rebroadcasts on C-SPAN throughout the day.

Editor & Publisher also has a nice recap with some of Colbert’s best lines:

Colbert, who spoke in the guise of his talk show character, who ostensibly supports the president strongly, urged the Bush to ignore his low approval ratings, saying they were based on reality, “and reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

He attacked those in the press who claim that the shake-up at the White House was merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. “This administration is soaring, not sinking,” he said. “If anything, they are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.”

Colbert told Bush he could end the problem of protests by retired generals by refusing to let them retire. He compared Bush to Rocky Balboa in the “Rocky” movies, always getting punched in the face—“and Apollo Creed is everything else in the world.”

After he was through, Bush and Laura stomped out of there like they’d just witnessed themselves being burned in effigy—which they pretty much had.

Colbert got a very cool reception (which is a nice way of saying he bombed), but I don’t think he expected anything less. You don’t make any friends among an audience comprised of Beltway journalists with material like, “You should spend more time with your families, write that novel you've always wanted to write. You know, the one about the fearless reporter who stands up to the administration. You know—fiction.”

And the whole time Colbert the pitbull gnawed on Bush’s jugular, he continued to periodically turn and look evenly at Bush, holding his gaze and addressing him directly as “Mr. President.” Bush looked back at him with a face of stone (save for one time when Colbert flubbed a set-up). Standing in front of a room full of people who didn’t, couldn’t, laugh, letting them have it with everything he’s got, sweating bullets, Colbert would look dead at Bush and never blink. In the midst on the onslaught, he even dared, “Mr. President, I’m so pleased you’ve agreed to be on my show. How does Tuesday work for you?”

Brass balls, baby. Big ones.

April 30, 2006 | Permalink


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Err… except that nobody was laughing. Colbert may have been vicious, but he wasn't funny.

Posted by: Mastiff | Apr 30, 2006 4:06:33 PM

I didn't expect Colbert's persona to be this mobile -- I thought it'd be more or less confined to the show. I look forward to seeing it on the road more often.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Apr 30, 2006 4:13:45 PM

i thought colbert's monologue was scathingly courageous, just a few feet away from the president. he was the only person in the room who dared to speak honestly, instead of being sycophantic and dishonestly polite.
it was most interesting to watch the facial expressions of george bush transform as the monologue evolved.
....his barb at mccain...and his compliment to laura for her reading initiative, while in the same breath saying that books were not really necessary, as history would revise the facts anyway.
...his comments to scalia were glaring as well.
....the look in colbert's eyes was so intense...
it was a very interesting and brave moment to watch.
....in a room full of supposed truthtellers, he was the only one who had the simple courage to stand up and say that the emperor was wearing no clothes.

Posted by: jacqueline | Apr 30, 2006 4:13:49 PM

I think it's funny that a lot of conservative/right-wing bloggers have taken exception to Colbert's performance. Going so far as to dismiss it as classless and lacking in style and grace, I mean.

I've heard the argument that the White House Correspndents' Dinner is an event where the President and the media are meant to take playful self-degrading jibes at each other all in good fun, and Colbert broke with that sacred tradition last night.

I would respond by saying that if anybody went to such a gala and completely played nice with George W. Bush, without speaking the truth regarding his many personal and public failings, then that would in and of itself be a lowering of class and not to mention intellectually dishonest.

Posted by: Joshua | Apr 30, 2006 4:14:14 PM


In that case, then there can be no basis for courtesy, under any circumstances, with anyone you violently disagreed with.

We need neutral ground every once and a while so that we are not completely overcome by our passions.

Posted by: Mastiff | Apr 30, 2006 4:21:38 PM


It isn't a case of reasonably or even violently disagreeing with someone. It is a case of calling a spade a spade. And by spade, I mean an amoral human being.

Posted by: Joshua | Apr 30, 2006 4:27:01 PM

in these times, the greatest act of decency is to tell the truth.

Posted by: jacqueline | Apr 30, 2006 4:39:49 PM

Colbert got a lot of laughs last night, and will continue to do so from this appearance. He just didn't get any from the assembled Kewl Kids, which is fine by me.

Having a neutral place where everyone can be reminded of each other's humanity is fine, I guess. Maybe the Congressional aides can start a Republican vs. Democrat softball league or something. I'm sure that would go a long way toward helping them not be overcome by their passions.

Since Bush has been handled with kid gloves his entire life, and especially by the press from his 2000 campaign on, it's nice to see someone give it to him straight. They should have known what Colbert was going to do - the man is on a show that explicitly mocks Bill O'reilly, after performing on a "fake news" show! But, true to the supreme arrogance and insularity of the beltway class, they apparently thought that by including Colbert in with the rest of the Kewl Kids that they would be able to rein him in. They never had a chance, and not because of Colbert's politics. We don't know what he really believes.

The Kewl Kids have no bearing upon him because he is a professional comedian and actor, and most of them ceased being professionals long, long ago.

Posted by: Stephen | Apr 30, 2006 4:41:19 PM

Via Atrios: Peter Daou at HuffPost: Ignoring Colbert: A Small Taste of the Media's Power to Choose the News

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 30, 2006 4:52:52 PM

Err… except that nobody was laughing. Colbert may have been vicious, but he wasn't funny.

I'm watching the video right now. I hear laughter. What's the next bullet point on your talking points memo?

Posted by: Hamilton Lovecraft | Apr 30, 2006 5:16:52 PM

Since when are stiff-necked authority types the last word in what's funny?

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Apr 30, 2006 5:26:11 PM

I've now got the entire thing here.

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Apr 30, 2006 5:59:31 PM

I watch the Colbert Report on a regular basis and watched most of the performance last night and thought it was a little uneven (the video portion dragged on a little bit, for example), but overall funny. And, I am conservative.

However, let me ask this: Why was it courageous? There are no consequences, other than people not liking it.

Posted by: Chris | Apr 30, 2006 6:13:52 PM

Not only was it not funny, it lacked simple manners. Even if you vehemently disagree with someone, its crass to mock them to their face. Its not news that people disagree with bush. Colbert isn't bringnig some new argument into the public realm. he's just taking cheap shots at someone with more class than he has.

Posted by: dan | Apr 30, 2006 6:19:27 PM

"...with more class than he has."

A lot more class than I. I don't think I could be that close to Bush without getting arrested.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 30, 2006 6:35:02 PM

Chris wrote:

i "However, let me ask this: Why was it courageous? There are no consequences, other than people not liking it."

The consequences would be that if Colbert didn't verbally confront President Bush the way he did, then he would be tactically approving of Bush's damnable policies and actions as President. It's courageous in this day and age for people to do the right thing, and Colbert deserves a metaphorical medal of bravery for doing it.

Posted by: Joshua | Apr 30, 2006 6:35:32 PM

Just so I have this straight, the conservative line of thought goes like this:

Making fun of the president's approval rating and the lapdog nature of the press when they're in the room = classless and not funny.

Making fun of fact that we've found no WMDs while the people dying from the invasion are thousands of miles away = hilarious!!

Posted by: Vladi G | Apr 30, 2006 6:39:34 PM

I too would like the question of "what makes it courageous" answered. Courage implies consequences or at least potential consequences. What exactly was Colbert risking? The two dozen republicans that tune into the colbert report?

Posted by: Dustin | Apr 30, 2006 7:17:29 PM

Dan, mockery to his face is exactly the point of the dinner - it's a chance to cut loose.

Didn't they have Don Imus host it once under Clinton, and he was deemed 'too offensive' afterwards?

I would call Colbert's speech 'brave' only from a comics point of view - he was (technically) bombing, but he kept his cool, even in front of a mostly-scowling president. That takes a certain kind of chutzpah. It's not 'brave' the way that a man going to war is brave.

For those who say he was being rude, can you find a joke which was uncivil? I didn't find one. It was mockery, yes, but in the context of the dinner, that is appropriate.

Posted by: Misplaced Patriot | Apr 30, 2006 7:32:58 PM

I can't believe my goddamn eyes that anybody fails to see the courage it took for Colbert to do what he did.

The whole point of that fraudulent, filthy, self-congratulatory dinner is to allow everybody there to pretend that they belong to the same exclusive club. It's a palliative for potential dissenters and doubters, filled to the brim with silk scarves and pearls and klonopin-chomping beltway sycophants all foaming at the mouth to be down with the power-brokers, to lick the hand that alternately feeds them and tugs on the choke chain. By refusing to be taken in by an invitation to hang with the "kewl kidz"( which term, by the way, is horridly ill-applied. Ironic though it may be, these people are so far from cool they wouldn't know Willie McTell if his engine broke down outside their front door. They are, in reality, incredibly lame and uncool and probably bettter referred to as SQUARES) Colbert demonstrated that he was above them all, had nothing but contempt for the tepid pseudo-sophisticated kowtowing that colors the quotidian existence of this roomful of lackeys and stooges.

And the point of was it funny or not is irrelevant. Several people have said this already, but Colbert's performance was emphatically NOT comedy. It was, in the words of a commenter on dKos, "high drama" of the first and finest order.

It really strikes home when the biggest laugh he got was about racism in DC. Combine this with the circumambient hilarity over the Bush double's shameless mockery of tens of thousands of lost lives and you get a sense of the personalities in that room.
These people live in a rarified world of total privilege and isolation, and I am willing to bet that none of them have heard ANYTHING like that before. And they needed it very, very badly.

TO illustrate by way of example, I'm going to cite Red Bean from his comment on dKos:

" 'I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers, and rubble, and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message that no matter what happens to America she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo-ops in the world.'

Let's look at this comment and admire just how much chutzpah Colbert actually has. When he calls Bush out for standing on rubble, he's daring to go where very few and certainly no one with national TV camera on his face has dared to go before.

He's telling whoever will listen that Bush's hypocrisy permeates his every act, including his heretofore sacrosanct bullhorn moment at Ground Zero.
But certainly there at that moment -- the real Bush emerged? No says, Colbert, it was just one in an unending series of lying photo-ops.

Bush has no shame. We're cheering tonight because at last a brave man said it to his face with the cameras running."

Hell yes.

And my addendum (then I'm done, promise):

Lenny Bruce, Eddie Izzard, Bill Santiago, David Cross, John Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. And Stephen Colbert is now Number One, no question-- brilliant as Saint Lenny's ouevre may be, he was, to my knowledge, never afforded the opportunity to take a giant and hugely-deserved shit directly on the president's face. Or, more importantly, never afforded the blood-draining, courage-crushing, sack-tightening challenge of doing so in the most dangerous and hostile company imaginable.

That was quite seriously one of the greatest and most significant performances I've ever seen in my life. I will count myself far beyond blessed if I ever witness another that even approaches it.

Stephen fucking Colbert. You did it. You got it off our chests. I was smiling for about four hours straight last night, flush with hilarity and dumb joy. My black, cynical heart is finally pumping fresh blood, and I can only hope that the smile on your face after you signed off-- after the video cut out and you announced it had been a true honor, after the crickets and the unhinged jaws-- I can only hope that that smile meant as much to you as I think it did.

As much as it meant to me.


Thank you.

Posted by: petomai | Apr 30, 2006 8:19:58 PM

to chris and dustin....

i think one of the definitions of courage is the state of mind that enables one to face difficulty without fear.
i dont think that the consequence of danger is always implied in making a courageous choice.
i think that it is courageous to be able to say difficult things in circumstances that are intimidating.
i think it takes courage to be truthful and expose one's positions in difficult situations, where one stands alone and vulnerable, speaking out.
many people sell out their souls and convictions in faustian bargains and out of fear. i believe that most people in that situation would be too intimidated to speak openly about the truths they feel in front of the president and many power brokers.
so much easier to be a sycophant or a panderer.
....it is easy to write one's feelings here, with anonymity and a clever pseudonymn...harder and quite courageous to take a stand in the light of day...with all eyes upon you.

Posted by: jacqueline | Apr 30, 2006 8:25:56 PM

Well, considering that Chris is my real name . . . I don't have a beef with anything Colbert said or did (outside of the video, which was SNLish in unneeded length), but the idea that Colbert was "courageous" in his presentation I just don't get.

I do get that it was "courageous" to put together material that you knew was going to probably not fly, or not be understood. Andy Kauffman was courageous in that way. But, the speak truth to power meme is taking it too far. The United States is the easiest place in the World to ____________ (fill in the blank and take your pick).

Posted by: Chris | Apr 30, 2006 9:53:19 PM


referring to clever pseudonymns, forgive me, i was just speaking collectively.
...i meant that anyone can project a mysterious persona, a quirky nom de plume if they wish... speak freely, boldly and safely and then vanish into the shadows....
......in regard to your comments, all occurrences are open to interpretation. i am always fascinated by the degrees of disagreement between reasonably thinking people!...i sometimes wonder if we could all at least agree that roses are beautiful to behold on a summer day...perhaps that is the best place to begin and end!
a toast to john keats and wordsworth, when the world is too much with us...
here is to all that is good and beautiful. there are things shining and beautiful beyond the fray of disagreements and the madding crowd. must not forget.

Posted by: jacqueline | Apr 30, 2006 10:35:24 PM


The reasonable disagreement is the reason that I like to make comments here at Ezra's place. I frequently read about 50 blogs (left and right) and this is one of the few comment sections that does not get out hand, one way or the other.

So, in the end, from what i watched, which seemed to be about the last half of the routine, it was funny, pointed, and the President probably didn't like it.

Posted by: Chris | Apr 30, 2006 11:20:11 PM

Everything petomai said.

Posted by: litbrit | Apr 30, 2006 11:22:48 PM

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