Stephen Colbert and George Bush Lampoon President Bush
The annual White House Correspondents’ dinner apparently had some tense moments last night, as Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert made some remarks that were perhaps a bit more biting than typical for the occasion. President Bush, as is customary, told some self-deprecating jokes and, in a novel twist, has a Bush impersonator do the routine with him.
A blistering comedy “tribute” to President Bush by Comedy Central’s faux talk show host Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent Dinner Saturday night left George and Laura Bush unsmiling at its close.
Colbert, who spoke in the guise of his talk show character, who ostensibly supports the president strongly, urged the Bush to ignore his low approval ratings, saying they were based on reality, “and reality has a well-known liberal bias.” He attacked those in the press who claim that the shake-up at the White House was merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. “This administration is soaring, not sinking,” he said. “They are re-arranging the deck chairs–on the Hindenburg.”
Colbert told Bush he could end the problem of protests by retired generals by refusing to let them retire. He compared Bush to Rocky Balboa in the “Rocky” movies, always getting punched in the face—“and Apollo Creed is everything else in the world.”
Turning to the war, he declared, “I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.”
He noted former Ambassador Joseph Wilson in the crowd, as well as ” Valerie Plame.” Then, pretending to be worried that he had named her, he corrected himself, as Bush aides might do, “Uh, I mean… Joseph Wilson’s wife.” He asserted that it might be okay, as prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was probably not there.
Colbert also made biting cracks about missing WMDs, “photo ops” on aircraft carriers and at hurricane disasters, and Vice President Cheney shooting people in the face.
Observing that Bush sticks to his principles, he said, “When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday – no matter what happened Tuesday.”
Also lampooning the press, Colbert complained that he was “surrounded by the liberal media who are destroying this country, except for Fox News. Fox believes in presenting both sides—the president’s side and the vice president’s side.” He also reflected on the good old days, when the media was still swallowing the WMD story. Addressing the reporters, he said, “You should spend more time with your families, write that novel you’ve always wanted to write. You know, the one about the fearless reporter who stands up to the administration. You know– fiction.”
He claimed that the Secret Service name for Bush’s new press secretary is “Snow Job.” Colbert closed his routine with a video fantasy where he gets to be White House Press Secretary, complete with a special “Gannon” button on his podium. By the end, he had to run from Helen Thomas and her questions about why the U.S. really invaded Iraq and killed all those people.
As Colbert walked from the podium, when it was over, the president and First Lady gave him quick nods, unsmiling, and left immediately.
E&P’s Joe Strupp, in the crowd, observed that quite a few sitting near him looked a little uncomfortable at times, perhaps feeling the material was a little too biting–or too much speaking “truthiness” to power. Asked by E&P after it was over if he thought he’d been too harsh, Colbert said, “Not at all.” Was he trying to make a point politically or just get laughs? “Just for laughs,” he said. He said he did not pull any material for being too strong, just for time reasons.
AP does not give the impression that there was anything amiss, however:
It was twice the fun for members of the White House Correspondents’ Association and guests Saturday night when President Bush and a look-alike, sound-alike sidekick poked fun at the president and fellow politicians. “Ladies and gentlemen, I feel chipper tonight. I survived the White House shake-up,” the president said. But impersonator Steve Bridges stole many of the best lines. Vice President Dick Cheney and his hunting accident were targets of his humor on a couple of occasions. “Speaking of suspects, where is the great white hunter?” Bridges said, later adding, “He shot the only trial lawyer in the country who supports me.”
Bush continued a tradition begun by President Coolidge in attending the correspondents’ dinner.He invited Bridges to play his double. The president talked to the press in polite, friendly terms. Bridges told them what the president was really thinking. Bridges opened like this: “The media really ticks me off — the way they try to embarrass me by not editing what I say. Well, let’s get things going, or I’ll never get to bed.” “I’m absolutely delighted to be here, as is (wife) Laura,” Bush replied. “She’s hot,” Bridges quipped.
The featured entertainer was Stephen Colbert, whose Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report” often lampoons the Washington establishment. “I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq,” Colbert said in a typical zinger. He also paid mock tribute to Bush as a man who “believes Wednesday what he believed Monday, despite what happened Tuesday.”
John Amato has a roundup of events, including the video.
You can also watch the Colbert segment by clicking the photo above.
Frankly, while I only found a couple of the lines particularly funny, I didn’t find any of the material itself over the line. It’s not like the Don Imus performance a few years back. The problem was the delivery, which was very heavy and somewhat angry. A lighter touch would have made it go over much better and probably garnered more laughter as well.
As usual, though, the presidential segment was funnier. That’s been true pretty much every year. People making fun of themselves are simply funnier than people being made fun of. The AP link has a clip of the Bush-Bridges performance that does not appear downloadable.
YouTube has the Colbert performance but not yet that one. Here’s a recent performance by Bridges, though:
It’s pretty good. The line about the French not having a word for “entrepreneur” was especially amusing.
Update: Joe Gandelman, a professional ventriloquist, has an excellent analysis of the contrasting comedic styles of the skits, putting his finger on it: The easy self-dreprecation of the Bush-Bridges skit is “dependent on joke construction and timing” while the heavy irony of Colbert’s “relies on shared assumptions.” As a result, “clearly some audience members either didn’t share his assumptions, or didn’t like him sharing them in public with Bush sitting there — or didn’t like to be put in a position where they would laugh and show all the world that they shared them.” Exactly right.
Dan Riehl thinks he understands why Colbert is at “Comedy Central” rather than a more prominent network. “The reality is, without a third tier network in need of content, I doubt that anyone would ever have heard of this guy at all.” Of course, “Comedy Central” also hosts “South Park,” probably the most clever (if often over-the-top and too “inside baseball”) shows on television.
Ed Morrissey thinks Colbert “bombed” and the skit was “three of the most laugh-free minutes of comedy seen on national television since Chevy Chase fancied himself as the new Johnny Carson.” I thought it was better than that. Still, a Johnny Carson could have delivered the exact same material and made it funny.
Allahpundit wonders whether Colbert was even trying to be funny. He also has the video of the Bush-Bridges skit at Hot Air.