Monday night on The Daily Show With Jon
Stewart (Comedy Central), Al Gore praised "interesting points"
made by the show's senior analyst, Stephen Colbert, including
"The countries that love us—Russia, Britain,
Japan—have all been on the receiving end of a good old U.S.
of A. ass-stomping. Perhaps the countries that view us less favorably
could use one of our patented exploding"—here he made smug
air quotes—" 'mood elevators.' "
Gore didn't say how the argument had piqued
his interest, but he may have been intrigued by Colbert's trademark
hostility, which, as his fans know, the comic keeps at a perfectly
steady boil under his persona as a self-satisfied ideologue. Along
with Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon on Saturday Night Live's
"Weekend Update," Colbert knows how to satirize combed authority
without the kind of wackiness that undid Steve Martin and Chevy
Chase. What's left, in Colbert's performance, is an eager, twisted,
overdressed newsman who is controlled by the incongruities of
the current broadcast-news clichés more than he controls
How's that analysis for blowing the pleasure
What I mean is that Colbert (coal-BEAR) will
make you laugh. His segments on The Daily Show—supported
by Jon Stewart's big-hearted deference to his senior analyst—are
among the most consistently good things on television.
In his interviews with non-actors (who are reportedly
told they're being filmed by "a news show from New York City called
The Daily Show on mrrmrmrrrm Central"), Colbert is terrific.
On "The True Meaning of Hanukkah," he tried to stir up controversy
about the holiday's desecration by consumers of glitzy Judaica.
"Is there any hope for this highest of high holy days?" he asked
mournfully as the camera switched perspectives and an elegant
British rabbi came into view.
"I have to tell you. This is not the
highest of holidays."
"OK," said Colbert. "It is. So let's
just move from there."
"Well, I'll have to contradict you," the rabbi
"Well, I wish you wouldn't," said Colbert primly,
only a touch insanely, later accusing the holy man of making up
At another time, Colbert praised Henry Kissinger:
"He understands that there is a time to shake things up, and a
time to smooth things over, and, with the exception of
the truth, smoothing things over is the thing we need right now."
A Comedy Central stalwart (he starred on the
1998-2000 sitcom, Strangers With Candy) and sometime
writer for Saturday Night Live, Colbert has found his
calling on The Daily Show, which he joined in 1997. The
show's other correspondents—lately, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms,
and Rachael Harris—have successfully taken cues from him,
and they've tamed, somewhat, the lite surrealism of the show in
favor of more controlled caricature. Much credit belongs to the
writers: With lines that sound like real news rhetoric, the comics
can't ham it up too hard. Their lines aren't easy to deliver.
("What was Antiochus' last name?" "Epiphanes!") As a result, the
actors follow Colbert in keeping their tone firm, serious, and
emphatic—like solemn, unstable broadcasters.
Back at the desk, after the "Headlines" segment
is out of the way, Jon offers equanimity. And, unfortunately,
he can't resist some wackiness. (The Daily Show sometimes
seems to overcompensate for fears that it's becoming too earnestly
political. When Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation,
waxed old school on the need for a refreshed liberalism, Stewart
couldn't find a way to laugh at her, so he looked nervous and
But it's time that the supremely talented Stewart
and Colbert, who are now collaborating on a new project, venture
to let The Daily Show's gravity be its humor. Following
Colbert's lead, they both ought to liberate The Daily Show
from Letterman-era goof irony, drop the swim-coach shouts
and the blank non sequiturs—and keep giving the stage to
Colbert. Stewart conducts sharp couch interviews, and he plays
an excellent straight man. Together, they're two straight men—and,
nearly every day, that's funny.