Tag Archives: Stephen Colbert

Goodbye, Jon Stewart: Please Let the New Guy Be Funnier

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

Jon Stewart’s decision to leave “The Daily Show” at what critics universally call the top of his game serves as another reminder of just how humor-deprived contemporary American television has become.

Stewart is, like his fellow Comedy Central alum Stephen Colbert and standup megastar Louis C.K., one of the most overrated talents of our time. Not that he isn’t fast on his feet – he is. Not that the camera doesn’t love him – it does. Not that he doesn’t understand timing – he does.

jon-stewartWhat Stewart isn’t is falling-down-on-the-floor hilarious. His fits and starts, lurching style of monologue elicits plenty of knowing guffaws and the occasional eye-rolling laugh at the expense of, typically, an ideologically inconsistent politician. But because he refuses to take the chance of alienating his audiences by offending them, he never risks falling off the high wire you have to climb in order to achieve comedy greatness.

If you want to be really funny, you have to be dangerous.

(To illustrate this point, I was going to cite a farm-based joke by Rudy Ray Moore, the black comedian and Blaxploitation filmmaker of the 1970s and 1980s, but it’s so outrageous and so obscene that I’m pretty sure I’ve never work again if I did. Now that’s some wickedly funny stuff.)

I remember – actually, as a cartoonist, I am traumatized by recollecting – a female friend telling me why she turned against the late great George Carlin.

She loved Carlin. She owned many of his albums. She had seen him in concert many times. She couldn’t stop talking about how brilliant he was. Then, she explained, he said one joke that offended her feminist sensibilities. After that, he was dead to her.

I was baffled and a little disgusted. “In baseball, if you hit the ball 35 percent of the time, you’re a God. So you need to tell me that George Carlin told thousands of jokes that you loved, gave you hours of pleasure and countless laugh out loud moments, but because of one joke, he was dead to you? You fired a guy with a .999 batting average!” (I’m more in the 30 percent range.)

He was.

Here’s the joke that pissed her off: “Have you ever noticed that the women who are against abortion are women you wouldn’t want to fuck anyway?”

Neither Jon Stewart nor Stephen Colbert nor John Oliver are ever going to say anything that funny. Or that mean. That’s not their business model. They walk between a very narrow set of lines defined by decades of political correctness.

Which is fine. Really. I don’t have a problem with what they do. The issue isn’t that they play it safe; the problem is that America is so starved for comedy that they manage to pass this bland stuff off as the real thing. The only reason that they have been so successful is that, following decades of horrible late-night tedium like Jay Leno, David Letterman and the inexplicably still on the air “Saturday Night Live” which, contrary to conventional wisdom was never very funny but is certainly much less so now.

“The humor that makes me laugh hardest is the material I know would offend or insult someone else,” wrote “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams in 2008. “But offending isn’t enough. The audience gets more out of humor if the messenger is putting himself in danger.” Adams says it’s a universal law, and I agree with him. It certainly applies to me. My most outrageous work – on 9/11 widows, Pat Tillman, making fun of American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq – is also some of my funniest. And it definitely put me in danger: I stopped counting the death threats at 1000. And I lost some good jobs.

Every now and then, someone has to kill a humorist to remind us how dangerous good humor can be.

Of all things, last month’s massacre of – whether you like them or not, outrageously funny – cartoonists at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris reminded some Americans of what exists elsewhere, but has been lost here, or perhaps never existed: an over-the-top, ribald, take-no-prisoners culture of satire, particularly in print but also on television.

Every few years, I make the rounds in Hollywood trying to pitch TV show ideas. During the peak of the Bush years, and before the idiotic “That’s My Bush!,” I presented to executives all over Los Angeles my idea for a comedy, either live action or animated, that made fun of the Bush family and the president’s top officials. The hook was, Bush was actually a reluctant leader, didn’t want to be there, and was secretly brilliant but didn’t want to let on. His daughter Jenna was really running the show. Dick Cheney was a softhearted wimp who broke into tears over nothing.

Maybe the show was a dumb idea, I don’t know, I’m not a TV executive. But that’s not the point of the story. The point is, Hollywood was so satirically illiterate that they rejected the idea based on legal fears: they were worried about being sued by the first family. As I repeatedly explained, Bush and Cheney and their families were public figures, so it would have been possible to mock them six ways till Sunday without having to worry about a successful lawsuit. Besides, almost every other Western country on earth had some sort of comedy show that sent up their political leaders: France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, even, at the time, Russia. They were all quite popular.

I explained that, as an editorial cartoonist, I routinely say all sorts of terrible things about the president, and yet, here I am, not in prison, at least not yet. But the pitch meetings never got beyond the legal questions. That’s how safe TV has become: they don’t even know what the legal landscape looks like.

There have been some bright spots. But you have to wonder, would anyone greenlight “The Simpsons” today? How about “South Park”?

There is no denying the success of the Comedy Central approach. Millennial viewers who would never watch the evening news nevertheless enjoy, and learn from, the fake news format pioneered by Stewart and Colbert. But make no mistake: that is not hard-hitting political satire.

Louis C.K., who is undeniably much funnier than those two, nonetheless likes to keep things safe as well. Although these incredibly incisive when issuing humorists observations about divorce, relationships, parenthood and popular culture, he generally shies away from straight-ahead politics.

The fact that it hasn’t always been this way tells us that things can change. In the 1960s and 1970s, even the relatively tame Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby routinely delivered more trenchant humor than you’ll find on television today. Richard Pryor, of course, was a God. Hell, Lenny Bruce got arrested! That’s not going to happen to the big-time comedians that we are constantly being told are so funny today.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of great humor out there – but not on the national stage, not on network television.

So now that the big Comedy Central stars have left, Colbert to the blander than bland Tonight Show (notice how no one talks about him anymore?), Stewart to whatever he figures out, we have an opportunity to reconsider the fact that, as a humor-loving people, Americans have the God-given right to watch dangerously funny TV shows – and there has never been a time when they were more needed.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Lefties Against Obama

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Think the President is Socialist? We Wish!

Memo to Republicans: you don’t have a monopoly on hating President Obama.

I dislike America’s two-party system for a lot of reasons. Mostly because the duopoly is undemocratic: no two political parties can represent the diversity of opinions held by a nation’s voters. We’d need dozens of parties to approximate adequate representative government. Another reason, one that deserves attention, is that it reduces political dialogue to binary imbecility.

Democrat or Republican. Liberal or conservative. If you’re not one, you must be the other. If you don’t vote, people — apparently rational, functional people who manage to drive their cars without ramming them into walls — tell you with a straight face that your non-vote is a de facto vote for the candidate you would have voted against (had you voted). Because you’re not allowed to hate both. Because, in under our idiotic one-or-the-other political system, even if you hate both parties, you’re supposed to hate one party more than the other.

Which is why, for the last four years, Obama-hating has belonged to the racist right.

In the real world, of course, lots of lefties can’t stand the president. In the mainstream corporate media narrative epitomized by MSNBC on the “left” and FoxNews on the “right,” however, left=liberal=Democrat and right=conservative=Republican. They say it so often and we hear it so much that many of us think it’s true.

In the real world, away from the barking dogs of cable television news, lots of Americans would vote for a party other than the Ds or the Rs. A 2012 poll found that 46% of Americans would support a third party if it were viable. Many on the right think the GOP is too extreme or too soft. That debate, the “civil war” between generic Republicans (e.g., Chris Christie) and the libertarian right (e.g., Rand Paul), gets some play.

Not so much on the left. Thanks largely to the left=Democrat propaganda of the late Air America and now MSNBC, lefties disgusted with the Democrats get zero play.

You’ll never find our views discussed or our champions interviewed, not even on the “liberal” shows hosted by Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or Bill Maher. But we exist. We are many. Even among self-identified Democrats, 14% of overall voters say they are “very liberal.” Unsurprisingly, this group disapproves of Obama’s job performance, which — contrary to right-wing talking points — has stayed away from policies friendly to his party’s traditional liberal base. Beyond that, about 10% of voters say they’re “disaffected” — so alienated from both parties that they refuse to participate in elections.

Greetings, right-wingers! We live in the same country. You should know about lefties who don’t like the Democrats — hold on to your seats — because they’re too conservative.

So, righties, you hate Obama because he’s a socialist.  Or a liberal extremist. Because the Affordable Care Act goes too far. Because he was born in Kenya (and stole the presidency). Maybe (though you’re only allowed to say this among trusted friends) because he’s black.

Fine. I’m not going to try to change your minds.

Instead, I’m going to provide some perspective. To demonstrate that despite two centuries of puerile choose-one-outta-two electoral politics, America’s ideological landscape is broader and more diverse than you may be aware.

Tens of millions of Americans — progressives, paleoliberals, greens, populists, left libertarians, left anarchists and yes, socialists and communists — hate Obama for being too far to the right. Socialist? We wish! We think he’s a sellout. At best! More like a corporate shill. Definitely a militarist. Possibly a fascist.

Here is a brief summary of the left’s brief against Barack Obama:

He bailed out Wall Street, not Main Street. The banksters who wrecked the economy should have gone to prison; he gave them $7.77 trillion. Distressed homeowners got nothing. Nor did the unemployed. Lefties see Obama as a slave of Wall Street scum like Timothy Geitner and Lawrence Summers.

He didn’t lift a finger to create new jobs. Right-wingers blame regulations and ObamaCare. Not us. Leftists want big jobs programs, like the WPA during the Great Depression, to add tens of millions of un- and underemployed Americans directly to the federal payroll.

He’s a warmonger. He expanded and extended the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. (And lied about ending them. He renamed “combat troops” to “support personnel,” and replaced soldiers with private “contractor” mercenaries. The U.S. will be fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq long after Obama “ended” those wars.) He got us into a new war in Libya. Now it’s Syria. In both cases we are supporting Islamist factions whose values we — not just lefties, but all Americans — do not share.

He refused to investigate the crimes of the Bush era: the lies the Administration used to con us into war in Iraq, torture, extraordinary rendition, spying on American citizens. We believe in accountability.

He expanded the drone wars. Many leftists are pacifists, opposing all war. Others accept the necessity of fighting to defend against an invasion. All agree that drone strikes, managed in secret, devoid of legal authorization and without checks or balances, are the worst kind of war: aggressive, impersonal, sanitized, mechanized, and especially enraging to its victims.

Most leftists are civil libertarians. We believe that personal freedoms are more important than the rights of the state. As we learned thanks to Edward Snowden, Obama has presided over a breathtaking expansion of the post-9/11 police state, violating the inherent right of every American to speak on the phone or write correspondence in private on a comprehensive, totalitarian scale.

Even ObamaCare, bête noire of the right, annoys us.

For us, the profit incentive has no place in something as existentially necessary as healthcare. We want big insurance companies out of the equation entirely. So, even though there are early indications that ObamaCare’s insurance marketplaces will lower premiums for many patients, we shrug our collective shoulders at such incrementalism. We wonder why socialized medicine — doctors and nurses employed directly by the state, hospitals nationalized — or at least a “single payer” option (which Obama promised during the campaign) was never seriously considered.

Then there’s Guantánamo, which he should have closed. Bradley Manning, tortured under his orders. Edward Snowden, who should have gotten a medal, hunted like a dog.

Any one of the above outrages deserves a long prison term.

If you’re a right-winger who hates Obama and the Democrats, remember us. We hate them just as much as you do — but not for the same reasons.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Cartoon for January 17

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are scabs. If Americans who work had one tenth of the guts and integrity of their counterparts in other countries, they’d refuse to tune into their shows. That also goes for when, and if, the Writers Guild strike is finished. Once a scab, always a scab.

These two strike-breakers think they can justify their actions away with the sort of lame arguments they usually get paid to mock when politicians make them. Let’s take them one at a time:

1. Their staffers were in danger of losing their jobs if they didn’t come back on the air. That’s true. It could happen. It’s called collateral damage, and it sucks. It’s also called solidarity. For all of us to get ahead, we all have to pull together and suck up the hard times. The whole point of a strike is to cause enough inconvenience to force management to negotiate in good faith. If Comedy Central ordered Stewart and Colbert back on the air, they ought to have quit. That’s called integrity.

2. They’re talking a lot on the air about unionism and the strike. While that’s very meta, it doesn’t wash. The best way to make sure the corporate bosses feel the pinch would have been to stay off the air.

3. They were willing to strike separate deals with the Writers Guild. First and foremost, the Guild ought not to have negotiated separately with Jay Leno. One deal for everybody, or no deal. Nothing else works. As for Colbert and Stewart, they didn’t strike an agreement with the Guild. “Wanting” to is a laaaaaaame counter to this fact.

Today’s cartoon is a two-parter of sorts. Fellow Cartoonist with Attitude Matt Bors offers his take on Stephen Colbert. Check it out!

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