ONE TV, ONE VOTE: No less than Time magazine printed a plea last week that the candidates in this year’s U.S. presidential elections abjure the late night comedy shows that have seemingly been annexed to their increasingly broad campaign stump. They're talking about the frequent guest spots that everyone from Democratic primary rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to Republican heir apparent, John McCain and former candidates like John Edwards and Mike Huckabee have been making on shows like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Most notably, a single night brought three Democratic hopefuls, former and active, together on the Colbert Report.
“But now that the most gag-filled primary season in history is lumbering to an end,” writes Richard Zoglin, “I have a modest proposal: Cut it out! The comedy campaign has gone from novelty to inanity, damaging not just the great tradition of renegade political satire, but whatever shaky credibility is left in our political process.”
Frankly, it reads like a pretty po-faced bit of opinioneering, especially from a guy who wrote a history of stand-up comedy in the ‘70s. Even for Time magazine, it has a prescriptive, finger-wagging tone that almost feels like a throwback to the mag’s Henry Luce Booth era, when its editorial influence was certainly far more potent.
Here in Canada, despite the sleep-inducing tone of our political culture, we have a political class that’s more than happy to make an appearance on comedy shows like The Mercer Report and This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Zoglin seems upset mostly because political satire has been mainstreamed, a far cry from the days when Mort Sahl or Lenny Bruce were the nation’s preeminent political comics: “they hardly expected, or wanted, the targets of their satire to show up onstage at the hungry i and join in the laughs.”
That was a long time ago, of course, and Sahl and Bruce have long been absorbed into the vocabulary of contemporary comics -- not to mention the politicians’ handlers -- who are perfectly eager to book them on these shows. Time even gets it wrong with the title of the piece: John McCain, You’re Not Funny. Quite the contrary – in his recent guest shot on SNL’s Weekend Update, blithely gloating about the divisiveness of the Democratic primary race (“Go ahead – fight among yourselves”) McCain showed comic timing that was a high point of the night’s show.
HELLO (SIGH) CLEVELAND: Wired magazine’s Underwired blog has a sneak preview of The Cleveland Show, a Fox spinoff of Seth MacFarlane’s cartoon sitcom The Family Guy. “Judging from the intro,” they write, speculating on the show’s content based on a montage scored to what one presumes to be the theme song, “this show looks to be more of the standard MacFarlane fare: a plethora of pop culture references, crass jokes and loads of toon nudity.”
You’ve got to be in trouble when your core constituency – and geeky dudes have always been MacFarlane’s crowd – can’t summon much anticipatory wood for your show.