The Dowdy Show
Maureen’s Colbert & Stewart Routine
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, November 17, 2006
Maureen Dowd, empress of country-club locker room punditry, took her oversize tape-recorder to the offices of Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert for a Rolling Stone interview, and let us in on it. Worth the $3.95 cover price? Let’s put it this way: “Meat Loaf: The Gravy Years,” on page 36, looked more appetizing, not because Meat Loaf is tasty, but because Dowd isn’t. Rolling Stone only has excerpts online. So to spare you the trouble, I’ll Brandeis-Brief the Dowd interview here, beginning with its awful opening: “I thought Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert might be a little nervous to meet with me. I was the real news commentator, after all, and they were the mock.” As Dowd’s colleague Frank Rich might put it, airless irreality has come a long way baby, and Dowd is its poster child. Fortunately, and after a brief bout with summarization of this and that to give her one-or-seven-liners a bit of show (“They’re the Cronkite and Murrow for an ironic millennium.” Or: Stewart “is an intense Manhattan smarty-pants who has the style and air of a man perpetually slouching toward adulthood” ) she gets on with it. She’s not much for insights, as opposed to re-treading the obvious with a slight snub to her prose, as if she’s describing her unequals: “The two satirists, interviewed together and separately, are so in sync they sometimes say the same word at the same time, play off each other’s pauses or slip in a deft punch line for the other. Stewart cracks up at every riff Colbert does. Colbert, his writers say, still has a bit of hero worship for Stewart, and, as a longtime little brother in his own big family, naturally falls into that role with Stewart.” But put Colbert and Stewart together even at the mercy of a University of Florida sophomore’s J-School questions, and they’re bound to make the show their own.
Dowd: But wouldn’t, say, a President Obama be harder to make fun of than these guys?
STEWART: Are you kidding?
COLBERT and STEWART in unison: His dad was a goat-herder!
STEWART: I’d rather make fun of somebody who is wearing their humble beginnings on their sleeve than somebody who has created a situation where casualties are involved. So the idea that somehow it’s easier now—it’s not. Because right now it is a comic box lined with sadness.
DOWD: Is there anything that’s considered going too far now? […]
STEWART: Here’s the way I look at it. President Bush has uranium-tipped bunker busters and I have puns. I think he’ll be OK.
DOWD, insisting: So it’s impossible to go too far?
STEWART: No, too far is different for every person. I would hope that my sense of humanity prevents me from saying things that are exploitative or so denigrating and derogatory as to be offensive. But I don’t understand how anyone can consider jokes about this stuff worse than the reality of it. We’re not out to provoke.
We learn that Colbert and Bill O’Reilly did meet once, at some awards dinner. O’Reilly lectured Colbert: “Watch your guests. You have an Olberman on, you have a Franken on, that’s a pattern. Your audience may not think about it, but they have a sense of it. […] Not everybody watches your show as closely as I do.” And Colbert thought: “Take me now, Jesus.” And had this wonderful thing to say about O’Reilly: “You know, actually I have genuine admiration for O’Reilly’s ability to do his show. I’d love to be able to put a chain of words together the way he does [snaps his finger] without much thought as to what it might mean, compared to what you said about the same subject the night before.” Colbert picks up on the thing that makes O’Reilly tick: his ego: “I saw O’Reilly do an interview with President Bush, and he said, ‘Guys like us,’ and I said, ‘Shit, the most powerful man in the world and a guy with 2 million people a night watching his show. I kept the equation in the forefront of my character.”
STEWART: The cornerstone of politics these days is grievances. It’s really hard to keep that going when you’re in power. I’ve admired their ability to hold on to that idea of being aggrieved while maintaining almost absolute control of all functions of government. I love it. And what are they most angry about? People who play the victim card.”
The interview then wanders over Colbert’s alleged love of Nixon, Bush being dumb or not (not, but), and this, by Stewart: “It was sort of like his trip to Baghdad. He went for four hours into the Green Zone and comes back and says Iraq is making great progress. It would be like if we went to the Olive Garden and started going, ‘I understand Italy.’” […]
DOWD: When you came to lunch at the Times, Jon, you said the lesson of the Oscars and the White House Correspondents Dinner was that you guys should not be talking to “the Establishment.”
STEWART: It’s not that we shouldn’t be talking. It’s that we shouldn’t care.
At that point Dowd verge on risking a substantial question. She challenges the boys about the old line, “I’m just a comedian,” reminding them that “from Shakespeare to Jonathan Swoift, humor is the best way to get through to people.” And then she lets Colbert and Stewart get away with disingenuous bollocks about how what they do has no effect politically, or that they’re not warriors in anyone’s army. They may not be in anyone’s army. But they are warriors (an unfortunate use of the word), or at least mercenaries. They like to have it both ways: we’re just comedians, but we’ll have the prime minister of Pakistan and James Baker and Ted Koppel and Jimmy Carter and Al Gore an Bill Clinton on the show, and talk more probingly about issues than any of those guys’ appearances on Leno or Today or Larry King do. But we’re just comedians? As Dowd hinted, they’re misunderstanding the meaning of the word comedian. But she didn’t probe. Instead, she want back to the idiotic: “You both had really sad things happen to you when you were ten.” Leave that sort of crap to Us magazine. Or how each proposed to his wife. Or the origins of Colb-Bear’s frenchified name. One last good Stewart quote does manage to make it in there: “The political industry is devoted to the electing and un-electing of officials, and that can be corrosive. If the Republicans don’t lose either house, people will talk about Karl Rove’s genius. There’s no genius. It will be the triumph of machine and money and strategy over reality. I don’t think that’s anything to honor or enjoy.”
And what’s Dowd’s follow up question to that? “Seat of heat. Jon, if you had to get an erotic instant message? … Would you rather get one from Mark Foley, Ann Coulter or Sharon Stone?” (For the record: Coulter.)