Sunday, March 2, 2008

Comedian, Bash Thyself

A while ago, we talked about how to be funny, a comedian must first be able to laugh at himself. To write effective satires, a satirist must be able to admit he’s wrong. That is the difficult task he expects of his audience, he must be able to deliver it himself. To be an effective and honest pundit, a pundit must be able to admit a mistake, to claim he’s changed his mind and to admit someone else might know better. That is, after all, what he expects of us.

Here are a couple of examples, inspired by last week’s events:

The Post-Oscar Jon-Slam

This excerpt is is taken from one from last Wednesday’s The Daily Show. In it Jon Stewart welcomes John Oliver, The Daily Show’s ‘Senior Hollywood Correspondent’, to talk about the Oscars that had taken place two days earlier. Soon the fact that Stewart was the host is mentioned by Oliver.

John Oliver: “And may I say, your performance was terrific.”

Jon Stewart: “Very kind of you. Thank you so much, John, for saying so.”

Oliver: “Absolutely. And far, far superior to the crapfest of two years ago.”

Stewart stares at the camera. Presently, he says, “John, that was me, as well.”

Oliver: “Indeed it was. But this was quite a turnaround for you. And it’s not just me saying so, Jon. That’s the consensus of the millions and millions of people all around the world,” Oliver continues, “who read about it.”

Stewart corrects him: “And saw it.”

“No, just read about it. Nobody saw it.”

Stewart begins to apologize, “Well, obviously, it wasn’t the highest rated Oscar ever...”

“No,” Oliver agrees. “It wasn’t. Unless by highest you mean lowest. It was the lowest. Or the least high. Is that what you meant, Jon? The lowest? Because it was that,” Oliver continues and continues to Stewart’s face. “The lowest rated Oscar. Ever. Of all times.”

“To be perfectly fair, though...”

“It’s almost funny, if you think about it,” Oliver interrupts Stewart. “When you did it before you were horrible and millions and millions of people watched it. Yet when you deliver a good performance, it disappears into the atmosphere to exist only as a brief moment in future Oscar montages.”

“That is somehow ironic.”

“I mean, two years ago,” Oliver continues, “with the whole world as your audience, you delivered a basic cable performance. Yet on Sunday night, with a world-class performance, you delivered a basic cable audience. It must be truly upsetting.”

“Well,” Jon says. “You can’t control an audience.”

You certainly can’t, Jon.” Oliver produces a piece of paper and reads off it, “Adults 18 to 24 down 15%. Women 35 to 54 down 28%. People who know you, aged 18 to 49, down 72%. People who gave birth to you, down 100%.”

And so it goes.

The entire bit, which takes place on Stewart’s show, ends with Jon laughing at the camera and telling the audience “I think we have more fun writing the post-Oscars Jon-slam than we do anything else we do on the show.”

On the Other Side of the Scale...

The fact that Stewart is able to bash himself so powerfully, that he is able to admit (whether it’s true or not) that he is wrong or that he has failed, is a trait that allows him to come with a clean conscience to encounters like the following, from a couple of years ago. Here he tells the two hosts of Crossfire exactly what he thinks they’re doing wrong, to their faces. Note how he does come with a clean conscience because he has this trait, and note how the two hosts react. The high-browed “You don’t don’t do it, either” never fails to convince.

Do you see the connection between being able to admit you’re wrong and Stewart’s behavior? Do you see the connection between not being able to admit you’re wrong and the two hosts’ behavior?

It’s connected, man. To be a comedian, you need to be able to laugh at yourself. To be a satirist you need to be able to change your mind. To be a pundit you have to be able to admit you’re wrong.