Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Carlson-Stewart II

In which Galley Friend T.C. takes apart the only guy on Comedy Central less funny than Dane Cook.

You can dismiss this as payback or whatnot. And that's fine. But it doesn't change the fact that T.C. is, in every particular, dead right.

For instance, on the Cramer ambush:

Stewart summed up the significance of what Cramer had said on the tape: “You can draw a straight line from those shenanigans to the stuff that was being pulled at Bear and at AIG, and all this derivative-market stuff,” he said sternly.

Except that you can’t draw any such line. In the video, Cramer hadn’t mentioned derivates or securitized loans or credit-default swaps, or any of the other exotic financial instruments that caused the fall of AIG and the current recession. There’s no evidence that Jim Cramer had anything to do with any of that, and Stewart didn’t offer any.

Before Cramer could defend himself, Stewart moved on to a new charge: Cramer and his colleagues at CNBC had known that the financial sector was in imminent danger of collapse, but had pretended otherwise—a ruse that Stewart described as “disingenuous at best and criminal at worst.”

This was even more farther-fetched. A ratings-hungry TV network had the scoop of the decade but decided to sit on it? Why? In order to curry favor with soon-to-be-disgraced corporate executives? It didn’t make sense.

On Stewart's real-fake-real journolistic treatment of Democratic presidential nominees:

at times Stewart seems like less a comedian than a courtier to the establishment. In August 2004, a week before the Republican convention, Stewart got an interview with then-candidate John Kerry. At the time, reporters covering Kerry couldn’t get closer than the rope line, so the interview qualified as a booking coup.

Stewart squandered it embarrassingly. His first question (after, “How are you holding up?”) was: “Is it a difficult thing not to take it personally” when your opponents are mean?

“You know what it is, Jon?” Kerry replied. “It’s disappointing.”

Four years later, Stewart had become, if anything, even softer. Over the course of a reverential eight-and-a-half minute interview with Barack Obama six days before the election, Stewart failed to ask a single substantive question, much less venture into policy (though, as with Kerry, he did open with, “How are you holding up?”). Instead, like the cable-news morons that he often criticizes, Stewart stuck strictly to the horserace, at one point even resorting to a sports metaphor.

And he sucked up, hard. “So much of this has been about fear of you,” Stewart empathized. “Has any of this fear stuff stuck with the electorate?”

Facing puffballs like this, Obama coasted through with snippets from his stump speech. The result wasn’t simply uninformative, it was boring. Obama didn’t say a single interesting thing, and Stewart wasn’t funny.

And on the fact--which no one else seems willing to say out loud--that Stewart simply isn't funny:

A serious man needs a serious mission, however, and this is suddenly a problem. With Bush gone and the Republican Party in chaos, most of Stewart’s targets have disappeared. Yet rather than pivot with the times and challenge those now in power, Stewart continues to attack the same old enemies, at this point mostly straw men and pipsqueaks. A couple of weeks ago, he spent an entire seven minutes mocking the crowd at a CPAC conference.

His studio audience loved it, though that isn’t saying much. Stewart’s audience would erupt if he read the phone book, or did his monologue in German, a response that over time is a threat to any man’s soul. During many segments, Stewart’s audience doesn’t laugh so much as cheer, a distinction that would bother most comedians. Stewart keeps them around anyway. Uncritical praise corrupts absolutely.

As Stewart becomes more self-righteous, he inevitably becomes less funny. Sanctimony is the death of humor, and also of innovation. Where a show like South Park challenges its audience’s every conceivable assumption, The Daily Show has become safer than Jay Leno, pandering night after night to the converted."

Seriously: Just give David Brock that time slot. He'd get the same numbers. The only difference would be that the rest of the media wouldn't bother to pretend that Brock was either funny or sage.

Or give Dane Cook the slot. He'd get better numbers with material that might, every five episodes or so, earn an actual snicker.


Anonymous said...

I don't have cable so have never seen an entire Stewart show but I can tell you that Tucker got one thing wrong.
The guy was never funny. Definitely no "great comedian." Just a cynic who resents the absurdity of the world. An attitude that is often mistaken for comedic by others who feel superior to their place in the world.

I know because I often caught his short-lived run as late-night host. At the time I felt sorry for him. He seemed like someone who had given up and could never take his job seriously. You could tell he thought he was too smart or too good for this cheesy kooky t.v. stuff. But he never made any effort to make it better or have fun pushing the envelope like the early Letterman.

No Jon just smirked knowingly; "this is lame, like everything on t.v. and I know it, but I lost my dignity at 30 and hey, it's a paycheck, right kids? Does the recognition of irony qualify as comedy, cuz I don't care. Boy this sucks, but that's the joke, and don't forget I get it."
Wink, wink, Night after night.

The show wasn't terrible because for all that, he was still more at ease in his loathing of what he thought he was too good to admit he'd become than Conan, and he actually had some good writers.
But I think his show is the only reason people could be so forgiving of Conan in those early years. At least Conan was trying, and Jon's uneven efforts made it clear that this was a pretty hard gig.

It sounds like his current job is perfect for him. I think it will be a long time before he ever comes to resent his current audience and place in the world. It sounds like he really thinks it matches his self-importance.

He isn't a clown seeking laughs. Deep down he always thought he deserves cheers and on his current job he has the luxury to confuse the two. But this isn't destructive of his comic chops. For Jon it would be therapeutic - he can be the lazy deserving cynic, get the praise, get the laughs and interpret both to reinforce his view of himself as an insightful genius in an absurd world.

And when I see him he does appear much happier than in the 90's. No more looks of exhausted desperation or yearning for more. Jon seems to have really made it to the top and found his place in the world. On Comedy Central. A stepping stone for some, the pinnacle of a career for a self-righteous cynic in a world he is too good for.

And I hear he still has some good writers.

Dave S. said...

How much straw do you have to serve with those grapes to make them taste less sour?

For the objective parts of the Carlson piece the commenters over there address the issue much better than I could. For the subjective part (i.e. Stewart isn't funny) no actual rational discussion is possible. I think Stewart is funny; you and Carlson, as well as others with whom I actually agree politically, do not. Any debate on the topic would start and end with "is too - is not" and I suspect neither of us have the time for that. Agree to disagree, etc.

Anonymous said...

Dude, what a silly post from Carlson. Everybody knows that he has it in for stewart over the whole crossfire thing, so this just looks whiny. Let me stipulate: I don't like Stewart's politics, I thought he was a jerk on that Crossfire episode, and clearly Stewart is in the bag for Obama, but none of that has anything to do with the righteous butt-kicking Stewart delivered to that clown Cramer the other night. Stewart performed a public service by pointing out what Cramer and company do, without consequence, on a daily basis on CNBC.

What's funny to me is that I remember when the crossfire thing went down, JVL wrote that Carlson was a friend and that Crossfire was a poor fit for his talents because he's more thoughtful, etc. Later, Carlson had that show on MSNBC that proved JVL correct, but was also an implicit acceptance of Stewart's primary complaint about Crossfire (or so I thought). Maybe Carlson is just accepting that the thoughtful side of his personality isn't making him any money and so he's returning to his firebreathing crossfire persona. Or something.