Friday, December 04, 2009

Colbert 'a jerk,' or at least plays one on TV

Perhaps the best sign of Stephen Colbert's greatness is that so many people don't get his act.

He's said to be a favorite of liberals and conservatives alike. I find that interesting, because his on-camera persona is a complete excoriation of self-assured, conservative TV pundits such as Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. But he's so good at it, that many people think he's serious. Quite possibly because those guys sound so funny to begin with.

The latest unwittingly witless victim of the Colbert act is U.S. speedskater Shani Davis, who has reportedly called Colbert a "jerk."

When I first saw this headline on ESPN.com, I assumed that Colbert, whose show sponsors the U.S. Speedskating team, had handed out some nasty behavior behind the scenes, or perhaps tried to enforce some sort of political litmus case on the athletes. Could it be true?

Davis isn't really saying. But it's believed that his Canadian ties have left him at odds with Colbert's remarks about "syrup-suckers" not granting the team sufficient access to Canadian training facilities. Others on the team have lauded Colbert's support.

If this is the case, then it's an almost comic misunderstanding. Colbert engages in Canada-bashing the way Chris Rock engages in racism. They speak the language, but only to rip their respective notions to shreds. It might be a bit dry at times, but they figure you're smart enough to get it.

When Rock says, "I wish they'd let me join the Ku Klux Klan. There'd be a trail of dead n*****s from here to Brooklyn," it has an entirely different meaning than if Larry the Cable Guy said it.

When Colbert calls Canadians "syrup-suckers" for denying wide access to Olympic facilities to the U.S. (which, for all I know, isn't even a real issue), it has an entirely different meaning than if O'Reilly or Beck said it.

Why? Because Colbert is a satirist. On purpose. And the last laugh is on those who take his show at face value.

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