Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Nature of What's Funny

Two weeks ago, Stephen Colbert roasted George W. Bush at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. (Click here to see the video on Google Video.) In the guise of his Comedy Central "Colbert Report" character, he took sharply critical potshots at Bush, the press and just about everything else. The thing that made it so outrageous was that Bush was sitting just a few feet away with his wife Laura watching the whole thing, at first with an expression of mild amusement and later in a condition of frozen-faced discomfort.

Since it first aired live on C-SPAN, the video has been watched by thousands on the Internet, myself included. I have read many of the articles and blog entries that followed, and I have some observations:

The first is that I can't believe this hasn't been more widely publicized. It's as though the embarrassment felt by the press at some of Colbert's remarks caused them to ignore this obviously newsworthy event, remarks such as: "Write that novel you got kicking around in your head, you know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know, fiction!"

The second is that many of the more conservative blogs have criticized Colbert's roasting of Bush as "not funny." Huh? I thought it was hysterical, mostly because it was so surprising and harsh. The nature of what's funny is always relative. If Colbert's remarks cut a little too close to the bone for some, then I understand why they would think it wasn't funny. But that doesn't lessen the impact or automatically dismiss those who applaud Colbert for having the guts to make light of what many consider a seriously flawed administration and the fawning press that covers it.

One of my favorite jokes goes, "How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?" The stock punchline is "That's not funny." Once when I told it in mixed company, a woman didn't wait for the punchline before saying, "I'm offended by that." I burst out laughing because that's an even better punchline than the original. The point is that people need to get over themselves, to stop taking everything so seriously that they can't find the humor in everyday life. It's like Dennis Miller once said on his Friday night HBO show several years back, before he went over to the conservative side: "You can't tell me that when the tall magi smacked his forehead on the cross-beam while entering the manger that Joseph didn't take his mind off wondering who had impregnated his wife for just a second and laugh his little carpenter's ass off."

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