Sunday, October 21, 2007

An Unbertable Colbert on MTP

Stephen Colbert's fake presidential ambitions crumbled today in an appearance today on "Meet the Press." And more importantly: Strangers to Colbert -- and I presume there are more than a few who are regular watchers of MTP -- will be left wondering what is funny about this guy, which is no way to promote a funny book.

This "interview" was very, very not funny, in a clear-the-room, cue-the-crickets, only-a-mother-could-love kind of way.

Colbert couldn't quite figure out whether to play it straight or outrageous, and his gift for spontaneity mostly eluded him. Russert's decision to play it straight as Sunday's Interlocutor-in-Chief misfired over and over again. The lack of any live feedback was cringe-inducing; either there is nobody on the set within earshot of an open mic or none of the crew thought there was anything to laugh about either.

Bert & Ernie on Phonics, Not Gay Marriage

There was a lengthy answer about the pride in getting a single South Carolina delegate at the Democratic Convention that went nowhere. A quiz about the extent of Colbert's knowledge of South Carolina ("What is the state amphibian?" Pause. "My dog."). An excruciatingly long riff on the chosen pronunciation of the guest's last name (Kohl*BEAR), culminating with Russert producing an Sesame Street "Ernie" doll and asking Colbert to utter the name of Ernie's friend. Colbert's position: Bert is entitled to call himself anything he wants.

Here's a suggestion: if you are going to trot out Bert and Ernie, how about letting the ultra-conservative candidate pontificate about gay marriage? Moving on.

Clearly some things were set up. But even an apparently scripted bit about Larry Craig fell flat besides being just plain icky and not remotely in character for the biliously right-wing Colbert persona:
Russert: Would you consider Sen. Larry Craig as your running mate?
Colbert: I would. I would.
Russert: Have you had conversations with him?
Colbert: (Pause) Define “conversation.”
Russert: Have you spoken to him?
Colbert: No …no …no.
Russert: Have you met with him?
Colbert: (Silence)
Russert: Have you been in the same room together?
Colbert: Yes! Sorry (glancing off set) -- my lawyer's telling me to say no more
Russert: How did you express your interest in developing your relationship?
Colbert: Forcefully.
Lessons from Andy Kaufman, and Pat Paulson

I wish Colbert good luck with his book. He's getting major promotion, and running for president -- but only campaigning in South Carolina -- is a potentially funny way of getting attention on his tour. But in all honesty, when I watch his program (during Letterman re-runs) I think he tends to run out of gas early most of the time.

It's hard work being funny as someone else all the time. Only truly deranged immense talents, like Andy Kaufman, can pull it off day in and day out. But Colbert has a lot to learn even about deadpan comedic presidential campaigns. May I suggest a master class in Pat Paulson?

So skip the MTP replays and delete the podcast (or watch it and prepare yourself for what television will be like when the writers go on strike). Instead, check out "Take Two," which is an online-only real interview by Russert with Colbert, out of character. They should have switched these two productions at birth.

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