All The More Reason


Double Agent
January 28, 2007, 12:54 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Here’s an interview with Stephen Colbert. He is an American comedian who has a show which is a sendup of the news of the day. His twist is that he takes on the persona of a right–wing crank. Stephen Colbert the man, though, is anything but a right–wing crank. And so, this show has earned a lot of popularity with the Left because they’re in on the joke, and think that this caricature of right–wingers is hilarious. Here’s a quote which shows some of the difficulty that comes from dancing with two public personas (click the “print this” link to have the whole article one page).

Colbert’s character is a comedic high-wire act, and as the crowd beneath him gets larger, and louder, and more distracting, the act gets trickier still. “We share the same name. But he says things I don’t mean with a straight face. On the street, I think people know the difference. But I’m not sure, when people ask me to go someplace, which one they’ve asked.”

Well that is a devil of a pickle, isn’t it? Obviously actors have faced this dilemma before, and some refuse to play roles that they feel puts themselves in a bad light. How can we look at this without falling all over ourselves spouting contextuality, perspective, and obscure references to Kurosawa? I’m not sure it’s entirely possible.

Having said that, how different is what he’s doing from what spies have done for ages? One is required to say things with a straight face that one doesn’t believe in, and to do this again and again and again. I realise that some people are more immune to the effect this could have on their own psyche than others, but all playing this game have to hope the home side never forgets whose side they’re on.

Jonathan Smith

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1 Comment so far
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I quite like Stephen Colbert’s schtick- it’s in a rich tradition of politics as high-farce. Some of the syllogistic somersaults that he performs remind me of the BBC’s ‘Yes Minister’. (Here is a good example of how someone can be coaxed, unwittingly, into self-parody: http://www.yes-minister.com/thatcherscript.htm)

The danger of the audience not getting the joke is ever-present in comedy. During the 1970s there was a sitcom in Britain called ‘Till Death Do Us Part’, featuring a bigoted old man called Alf Garnett. In the show he would often face off against his leftie son-in-law, who was basically the embodiment of the writer’s opposition to Garnett’s bigotry. Of course, Garnett became a folk hero to a lot of racists who didn’t get the joke.

Incidentally, Tony Booth, the actor who played the long suffering son-in-law is, in real life, the father-in-law of…Tony Blair! I’m starting to get an ‘irony headache’…

Comment by Michael P




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