I have now seen Colbert vs Trump. I have also seen a lot of complaining about Colbert vs Trump, mainly about how Colbert did not personally beat Trump to death with his stylish new Late Show coffee mug and then mount his head on a pike staff outside the Ed Sullivan Theater as a warning to others.

There are really two separate complaints out of people who say Colbert's Trump interview was too nice: That Colbert didn't say mean enough things, and that Colbert didn't say things meanly enough. Content vs tone.

I do not think I have previously seen Colbert-the-human-being angry on camera. Everyone's seen Colbert-the-character angry and raving on his eponymous show, and a few times Colbert-the-writer-for-The-Colbert-Report has gotten pissed enough that his pundit rant went borderline OOC. Probably the most infamous instance of that was the piece called "Jesus Is A Liberal Democrat", where he tore into Bill O'Reilly for claiming that Jesus said it was A-OK to refuse to help poor people who were insufficiently deserving, but there have been lesser occasions, like when he made it clear he personally had nothing to do with Viacom being dicks about making YouTube take down clips of his show. Colbert-the-human-being is generally very genial, and has an almost superhuman tolerance for people who hold truly dickweed views, as long as those dickweeds can be polite to him back.

When Colbert gave Trump a chance to take back pretty much any and/or all of the racist sexist crap that has been spewing forth from his campaign podium, he led in with an 'apology' of his own. Paraphrased--

"I've said a lot of mean things about you over the past couple of weeks."
(waving the matter away) "And a few nice ones, too."
(beat) "No, I don't think so..."

Colbert has nothing kind to say about Donald Trump. Nothing. He's aware and he's not stopping himself. If he were in character as "Colbert" he'd be putting the boot in by agreeing vociferously with everything Trump said, and even making up terrible shit of his own and quoting it as if it were obviously Trump's view. But you can't go anywhere with someone who has already reducio'd himself into the very model of absurdum, and I don't think Colbert-the-human-being could stomach even pretending to agree. What he says, and what he sounds like, matters a lot to him. It's why he stammers out of character, but not in. The pundit can say fucking anything, it doesn't matter -- he's supposed to be an awful person. The actual Colbert, not so much.

In fact, Colbert finishes off the interview with a segment where he confesses to having an increasingly hard time distinguishing things Trump has said from things his pundit character has said. Colbert describes that character as "a well-intentioned, poorly-informed, high-status idiot," and that is by far the nicest thing I have ever heard him say about his alter ego. He was wary of pitching the show in the first place, because he wasn't sure he could manage to play that kind of asshole on TV. Just since starting on the Late Show, whenever that character has come up, Colbert made it clear he thinks "Stephen Colbert" is a pig-ignorant unteachable narcissist.

I think the comparison was genuinely the meanest thing Colbert could think of to say to Donald Trump. It was less than satisfying, mainly because Trump didn't catch the insult. I suppose when you have your head that far up your own ass, sounds do get kind of muffled.

As to whether you think his tone was spiky enough or not -- that probably depends on whether you speak Southern. I'm not a native speaker, but my mother grew up in St Louis, so I'm an immersion-learner of a closely-related dialect. When speaking Southern, the less you like someone, the more obviously polite you get. It's supposed to serve as an outward sign that you are using every last drop of your self-control to not reach across the dinner table and strangle them with their own tongue.

(I feel compelled to note here that this is not just specifically a Southern thing, it's a Southern lady thing. Not that men never do it, but the women have it down to an art form. It is one of many things Colbert has evidently learned exceedingly well from his momma. I dunno if he thinks of it in the same terms I use to point it out, but from some perspective or another, Colbert is quite aware, and is also demonstrating competence in Ladyperson dialect quite on purpose. If you don't believe me, take a look at the standard ad banner they're using to promote the show -- it's Colbert stretched out on the floor, one hip upturned and his head propped up on his hand, in a classic girly cheesecake pose. He is amusingly prone to being given roles that essentially require him to play a woman without the benefit of drag.)

Colbert sounds quite off-balance at several points, probably because what actually wants to come out of his mouth is more along the lines of, "How is it physically possible for one man to be so fucking wrong?" than the required talk-show banter. In theory, that could have gone better, but in reality, I don't see how. Hallucinogenic drugs for one or both of them, maybe. I'm sure fervent prayer was already involved. Colbert was all excited about the audience collectively helping him find out who he is on stage when he's playing "himself", so, uh, apparently that is what Stephen Colbert looks like when he has to interview someone who makes him want to crawl out of his own skin.

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