Category Archives: Humor

Death of a newsman

Like everyone else, I too mourn the impending demise of America’s favorite faux-anchor, Stephen Colbert. (Here I refer to the character; the man will, presumably, live on.) Unlike so many others on late-night TV, Colbert is left oddly without a protégé. Even The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart — the closest thing Colbert has to a peer these days — returned from a hiatus last summer only to find his replacement, John Oliver, being popularly crowned as his successor. (Oliver now has a new show on HBO, but he’s still my odds-on favorite to return when Stewart eventually bows out.)

Colbert, meanwhile, occupies a rarified air all his own, a Bill O’Reilly facsimile for all of us who despise the real one. Which leads me to wonder, half-seriously, if that’s what all of the handwringing over his departure is about in the first place.

As I’ve written before, the idea of Stewart and Colbert as Heroic Liberals has always been more myth than reality. There is little evidence to suggest that either of them truly desires a progressive transformation of Stateside democracy: a little tax reform here, a little less voter discrimination there, sure. But one rarely gets the sense that the duo’s comedy informs their activism, rather than the other way around.

Indeed, Stewart’s passion has not aged well. He won early accolades for his righteously indignant takedown of CNN’s Crossfire, a program with a premise so stupid that the hapless network couldn’t resist reviving it late last summer. Then in 2010, The New York Times made the dramatic comparison to Edward Murrow after Stewart successfully advocated (with evident feeling) for healthcare funding on behalf of 9/11 first responders.

But where Stewart’s satire cut viciously in the Bush years, his Obama-era humor has begun to feel almost formulaic. In January 2010, Stewart’s timid interview with torture memo author John Yoo was so universally panned that he apologized for his performance the next night. His later conversation with Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t terribly better (“I feel like we’re on the porch drinking lemonade,” Stewart remarked).

Colbert, on the other hand, didn’t initially enjoy the same reputation for edgy confrontation (although his 2006 speech at the absurd spectacle that is the White House Correspondents Dinner remains a masterpiece of the genre). But where Stewart has occasionally been known to throw a knockout punch or two in person (Jim Cramer springs to mind), Colbert’s victims are largely crucified in absentia. In between, he had his head shaved by a U.S. Army general on a base in Iraq.

Two years ago, Steve Almond took a long look at these two comedians and threw up his hands:

Our high-tech jesters serve as smirking adjuncts to the dysfunctional institutions of modern media and politics, from which all their routines derive. Their net effect is almost entirely therapeutic: they congratulate viewers for their fine habits of thought and feeling while remaining careful never to question the corrupt precepts of the status quo too vigorously.

Our lazy embrace of Stewart and Colbert is a testament to our own impoverished comic standards. We have come to accept coy mockery as genuine subversion and snarky mimesis as originality. It would be more accurate to describe our golden age of political comedy as the peak output of a lucrative corporate plantation whose chief export is a cheap and powerful opiate for progressive angst and rage.

His frustrations are certainly valid. But more to the point, it seems to me that Almond’s expectations scooted far away from reality. It’s one thing to excoriate the audiences of Stewart and Colbert for their complacency, and quite another to assume that they share Almond’s progressive ideals. For that matter, it seems even less justifiable to assume the two guys peering into our living rooms from behind their news desks four nights a week are all that different from most of the people staring right back at them — that is to say, mainstream urban America.

If Colbert’s upcoming exodus to late-night network TV feels like a betrayal, it’s a curiously one-sided one. It brings to mind my gradual realization, during my mid-teens, that the inveterate hatred I felt for the New York Yankees was not shared by my idols wearing Red Sox uniforms, who routinely exchanged jokes with Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter as they made their away around the infield diamond and, all too often, later donned the pinstripes themselves. Turns out the Sox and Yankees were not nearly the polar opposites I’d always supposed, and that they had more in common with each other as pro ballplayers than either of them had with me. It seems to be taking all of us a little longer to reach the same realization about our comedians.

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Professor McCain

There’s a veritable feast of things to love in this video. First, it’s hard not to appreciate FOX‘s Brian Kilmeade delivering his profound commentary: “I have a problem helping those people out if they’re screaming that after a hit.” (Yelling “Allahu akbar” is, presumably, more offensive than stating, “Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards.” Or openly rooting for an injured enemy soldier to pick up a weapon so you have a right to open fire on him. Or saying, while discussing a child wounded by your side’s gunfire, “Well[,] it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”)

But it only gets better from there, when John McCain gets all professorial:

Would you have a problem with Americans and Christians saying, “Thank God, thank God?” That’s what they’re saying. Come on! Of course they’re Muslims, but they are moderates. And I guarantee you that they are moderates. I know them, and I’ve been with them. For someone to say “Allah akbar” is about as offensive as someone saying “thank God.”

Aside from the fact that it’s funny to see John McCain suddenly realize that Muslims are human too, it’s even more hilarious to hear him say “I know them, and I’ve been with them.” Indeed he does, and has: unfortunately, it appears he couldn’t tell the moderates apart from the terrorist kidnappers. (Don’t you hate when that happens?)

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Growing out of guilty pleasures

inferno

 

On an impulse, I recently purchased Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno. Although I admittedly read and enjoyed The Da Vinci CodeAngels and Demons, and The Lost Symbol in the past, this time something irreversible finally seems to have taken place. Yes, in the past I’d already resigned myself to Brown’s eyeroll-inducing italics, smiled at his strained metaphors, even accepted his jarring similes.

But this one may be a bridge too far. File this one under “Oh, The Lengths to Which I Will Go on a Family Vacation.”

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“Bars were the original social network.”

Fast Company takes note of a beer glass innovation at Salve Jorge Bar in São Paulo:

 The Offline Glass, by Mauricio Perussi, Melissa Pottker, and Fischer&Friends, is a low-fi way to stop any friend from using their phone. It’s essentially just a glass with half a bottom, so if your iPhone isn’t laying on the counter, perfectly wedged in its gap, your beer will spill all over the bar.

Of course, for the clever drinkers amongst you, there are probably conceivable workarounds. Wedge a cocktail napkin in there. Just hold your phone and beer at the same time. “We do not intend to [actually] solve the problem,” clarifies Art Director Mauricio Perussi. “The Offline Glass is just a funny way to annoy friends who only have eyes for their cellphones.”

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Waiting for #SCOTUS: now we know next week is going to be amazing

Thursday morning came and went without any decisions from the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage, affirmative action in public universities and the constitutionality of a key provision in the Voting Rights Act, meaning that next week (the last scheduled week of this term) is going to be amazing. We did get rulings in three other cases (Descamps v. United States on enhanced sentences for those with prior convictions, American Express v. Italian Colors on class action suits and arbitration clauses, and Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society on government preconditions for aid and the First Amendment), leaving the number of yet-to-be decided cases at 11 now. Here’s the tweet recap (tweetcap?) of the frenzied period between 10:00-10:30 a.m. EST this morning:

Finally, of course:

 

 

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Newt Gingrich is gently ushered into the 21st century

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmKVRVX4q-k]

Newt Gingrich just won the Internet…again:

Newt Gingrich wants you to know that he is “puzzled” about what to call his cellphone, which can do a whole lot more than simply make calls. I’m puzzled by his entire video on the topic, but mostly by the fact that he hasn’t heard of the term smartphone.

The former House speaker uploaded the above video to YouTube on Friday, although it’s only starting to rack up the views now. In it, Gingrich asks for help coming up with a new name for that fancy black rectangle in his hand, one that will help “explain to people that they carry in their hand literally the potential to have a dramatic revolution in how we get things done.” The best alternative he and his team—yes, he has his best men at Gingrich Productions working on this—have come up with in the “weeks” they’ve spent on the task is: “handheld computer.”

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Belieber

The New Yorker, following up on pop star Justin Bieber’s awkward attempt at memorializing Anne Frank, has a little fun re-imagining history:

Göring: You see, mein Führer, being a Belieber isn’t just about music. It’s about love and trust, about being sweet but still complicated, cocky but non-threatening, sexy but not precisely sexual—whether you’re commanding the Wehrmacht or hiding in an attic somewhere in the Netherlands. Sure, it’s easy to sit here and talk about making a Fascist Bieber, but chances are we would all just end up Bieber-Fascists. Look, Himmler’s already doing the slide-glide thing.

(Hitler turns to see Himmler doing Bieber’s signature dance move across the room. Hitler sighs heavily, realizing it’s useless.)

Hitler: Well, in that case, I suppose we ought to surrender.

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