Sunday, May 21, 2006

Stephen Colbert is no Jim McQueeny

Once a year, politicians and the press who cover them lay down the rhetorical cudgels they use to beat on each other, and gather for a "See-we're-really-all-friends-...-REALLY!" dinner. At the national level, this event is known as the White House Correspondents Association dinner, and the highlight of the evening is the President's riff, usually followed by the Comic It Girl (actually, Boy -- I can't remember when, if ever, there was a female comic given the honor) of the moment, skewering the President.

This year's WHCA dinner, held three weeks ago, featured Stephen Colbert taking on the President. In a 25-minute bit, Colbert spoke truth to power in such a brutally head-on manner that nary a laugh was heard in the hall. That is, if you believe what the left-wing blogosphere says. From my point of view, nary a laugh was heard in the hall because Colbert was decidely unfunny. His timing was off, and the jokes weren't that funny to begin with.

The night was a huge disappointment for the legions of Colbert fans (among which I count myself -- Colbert is, in my mind, the funniest comic working today, and his nightly "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central is must-TiVo television). Being given the honor of roasting the President at the WHCA dinner is the Washington Establishment's ultimate seal of approval; I, for one, was pleased when I learned Colbert would be doing the honors. So when I tuned in to C-SPAN on a Saturday night, ready to laugh as hard as I do during the 22 minutes each week night when I'm watching his regular show, it was extraordinarily disappointing not to be compelled to laugh more than a few times during the whole bit.

Nevertheless, I've included a link here so you can see for yourself, in case you missed it:

  • Stephen Colbert roasts President Bush and the media

  • In New Jersey, the event is called the Legislative Correspondents Association dinner. The evening's funnies begin when various members of the press corps do skits and sing song parodies lampooning the state's political leaders; but the real highlights of the evening invariably follow the press's turn at bat, when the former Governors (each of whom is offered rebuttal time at the microphone) let loose with their own observations on the state's politics and political leaders.

    This year's dinner featured an added special: a video prepared by Jim McQueeny of News Channel 12. Jim is a public affairs professional by day, and has a long and successful history in Garden State politics (including stints at the Star-Ledger and as a key member of Team Lautenberg).

    McQueeny's bit is much, much funnier.

    Granted, because many of the players involved in the making of the video are recognizable only to true New Jersey political insiders, many of you who might watch this bit might not get it. But humor only works in context -- and in the context of a video prepared for a dinner where 800 or so of the men and women who rule New Jersey gather to take a load off, this bit is truly funny: the peeks inside the Assembly Democratic caucus, the Assembly Republican caucus, and the Senate Democratic caucus stand out as the best laughs of the bit.

    Until, that is, the end of the video, when a New Jersey spectre from the past strides into the picture, complete with Clint Eastwood spaghetti western soundtrack for effect. Now THAT is FUNNY.

  • Jim McQueeny's idea of a humorous take on New Jersey politics

  • Given that spectre's return to the front pages of New Jersey newspapers in a decidely unamusing context, one can only wonder if he would have been as willing to help McQueeny if his news had broken two weeks before the dinner, instead of two days after.


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