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.

Editors and Publishers:

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:

President Bush, left, and Steve Bridges, a comedian and President Bush impersonator, are pictured during the White House Correspondents' Association's 92nd annual awards dinner, Saturday, April 29, 2006, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari) 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.

Stephen Colbert at WH Correspondents' Dinner

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mark says:

    I caught it on CSPAN. The Bush/impersonator skit was very funny and had a lot of laughs. Colbert just bombed with everyone. I can’t recall one audience laugh.

  2. Roger says:

    Colbert did a good job of pointing out many of the absurdities in Bushco world. Many in the audience were obviously made uncomfortable. I was impressed that Colbert didn’t sell out and water it down. I must admit, I had to wonder what the organizers of the event were thinking in hiring Colbert.

  3. Brian says:

    I have to wonder what they were thinking also. Personally, I love Colbert. His nightly show is fantastic and much more original and creative than his network counterparts. But I’m not sure that Colbert, who along with Jon Stewart is the most credible administration critic to anyone under the age of 30, was an appropriate choice.

    James-He was doing the character “Stephen Colbert” from his show (a mixture of Bill O’Reilly and a few other pundits). I understand what you’re saying about the delivery, but the jokes wouldn’t make any sense coming from the real Stephen Colbert.

    The people at the dinner may not have liked it, but Colbert will probably be a hero among his fans for doing it.

  4. gorble says:

    This review is hilarious. It’s humorless idiots like you who are polluting my internet. GET OUT

  5. Billy says:

    Mark,

    The audience laughed like 50 times. Try actually watching the video.

  6. Mark says:

    Billy,

    I did watch last night. I did not hear any laughs during Colbert’s skit. If they were there, they were muffled.

    I understand what he was trying to do, it just did not come across as funny.

  7. Jim Treacher says:

    Such is the reach of the evil Bush Administration that it was able to block out the gales of uproarious laughter on live TV. WAKE UP, AMERICA!!!

  8. Stephen says:

    I thought Colbert was funny for the most part and from the C-Span coverage, it seemed that the audience mostly enjoyed his routine too. I did not see Bush’s reaction. The ending video with Helen Thomas was too dragged out, though and not as funny. At the end, the moderator asked everyone to stay in their seats while the Bush’s left the audience, so I did not take their exit to be rushed.

  9. Roger says:

    I know Fox edited out the standing ovations and muted the massive applause for the Clintons and others at the Coretta Scott King memorium when they very obviously alluded to Bush’s hypocrisy, but do you think C-SPAN could be controlled by the Repubs, too? I watched and didn’t hear a lot of laughter for Colbert, just a lot of bemused looks on faces. And they did pan to Bush several times–he looked very uncomfortable. (That’s a nice way of saying he looked pissed.)

  10. NSLF says:

    Judging Colbert’s routine by the number of laughs it got from that crowd…so ironic I have to wonder, Stephen, is that you?

  11. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Some of the responses are sophomoric. What is uniform about the lefts reaching to anything they do not like is not very mature. Starting with the assertion Bush did not legitimately win his election, to the fable that Bush lied about Iraq’s attempt to purchase uranium in Africa. That, somehow, it is Bush’s fault that the Mayor and Governor of a city and state that were struck by a hurricane did not do their jobs, and all the fault shifts to Bush. The childlike acts of the immature, who cannot understand why the majority of us do not agree with them. Your media lies, and the only source on cable or balanced news is disparaged because it is not what you want to hear. Why don’t you act the the five year olds that you are, and take your ball and go home. Preferable to the communist country of your choice.

  12. Roger says:

    Zelsdorf, sounds like you at least were sophisticated enough to appreciate Colbert’s brilliance. It’s good to have an adult around, befuddled as he may be about reality, which as we all know “is biased for the left.” Denial can help one feel better. We all support you. There, there, go to sleep now.

  13. Brian says:

    Zelsdorf-
    You come in here and raise the level of debate by telling everybody who disagrees with you to leave the country. Then you accuse others of being sophomoric. How ironic.

  14. Zelsdorf Ragshaft IV says:

    There will be a “Klan For Bush” meeting at my bunker this weekend. Bill O’Rielly will be the guest speaker and we plan on burning the Bill Of Rights to provide illumination for a reading of “My Pet Goat”. Our leader’s favorite tome. Please feel free to bring a LEGAL immigrant to do the dishes. The right stands on principle, unless there is a war to be fought then we stand aside. We are too valuable to the gene pool to risk injury in wars we support. The President is truly one of us….willing to shed the blood of others so Halliburton and Exxon can be free.

  15. Roger says:

    “Your media lies, and the only source on cable or balanced news is disparaged because it is not what you want to hear.” Zelsdorf, forgot to mention, if you want to see how Fox fakes the news, check out what I was talking about at Media Matters’ website archives. They show clips of the actual crowd response at the King memorium and then how Fox faked it. You can also see how Fox muted the booing of Cheney when he threw out the first pitch at a ballgame and reported a heartwarming happy scene in place of what actually occurred. You have to see this stuff to believe it. When you finally understand how far Fox goes to invent reality, not just by lying, distorting, or by failing to report the truth, but by actually manufacturing a false “reality,” it’s pretty disturbing stuff.

  16. Zelsdorf Ragshaft IV says:

    Rodger I fail to see the problem with reporting the news in a fair and balanced way as long as you manipulate it to your viewpoint. This country has a long history of propaganda for the good of moral. King George W. knows what is most important for all of us. He is a great intellect and leads with a clear vision and an eloquent prose that stirs the heart. Standing on that aircraft carrier speaking for all the world to hear was so inspiring. It made me proud to be a Neo-American. Mission Acomplished! Only the liberal media have seen the errors in the President’s grand plan. He is God’s instrument doing the Lord’s work. He answers to a higher calling than the Constitution or the Supreme Court. He is above the law because the Father he worships and follows is above all. Fox News is moved by the spirit to do the appointed One’s bidding. What higher calling could there possibly be? The Second Coming is here and his name is George W. Bush. Praise the Lord.

  17. srgtick says:

    Mark, Colbert’s softer and more obvious stuff like the Alito joke, the rest of the world being Apollo Creed, naming Valerie Plame and a few others he got laughs. When he got edgier, like the photo ops, saying Joe Wilson’s wife to the president, and calling the press out for being stenographers he didn’t. He got anger and discomfort. Which I’m quite sure is what he expected. I’m not sure if you’re deaf, if you are I’m sorry.

  18. Mike Schenk says:

    What ever happened to just a great time and be entertained for a couple of hours. We fall all over ourselves to humiliate and embarass the President of the USA. How about a bit of respect for the Office of the president. Oh by the way, I am a legal immigrant. Come on America, have some fun

  19. Will says:

    Your article is as interesting as a fish bowl, you silly sally. If you don’t remember what that means, ask your friend Gannon. And spread those cheeks.

    Colbert’s “delivery was angry?” You know, I think they need a top notch journalist like you over in Iraq. I hear they are running out.

  20. Oh Please says:

    Oh please! Bush surrounds himself with yes men and crowds that have been screened to make sure they love him. Its nice to see him hear the truth for once in a blue moon. Reagan, Bush the 1st, and Clinton at least would listen to the other side, this guy turns a deaf ear to them.
    Oh! by the way the communist remark above is interesting. A dictator who listens to no one, and disregards the rights of the people, hmmmm, were you talking about this President? A-HA you were!