Thursday, October 28, 2010

The President And The Comedian

by Dick Mac

I watched some of The Daily Show last night when Jon Stewart hosted President Obama. I wasn't really enjoying it and couldn't figure out why.

Leading up to the broadcast, I felt as though it was a bad idea for Obama to do it, and I expected it to go poorly for the embattled President. What I saw was the President answering the rather lame questions of a comedian with a late night comedy show.

Don't get me wrong: I adore Jon Stewart. I think he is one of the smartest and funniest people on television today, his show is deservedly a huge success, and the people he surrounds himself with are also very smart, very funny people.

A I watched and waited for the President to make a big mistake, he didn't. Still I was uncomfortable watching the two of them and couldn't put my finger on it. I felt as though the interview wasn't going well, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

They traded barbs, and Stewart asked his questions in his usual hesitating way as if he's just thinking up the question at that minute. I've never believed he was lost for words, and this has been some of his best acting on the show - it's part of his schtick and I like it. Usually, when he does that stumbling, hesitating build-up to a question, making it seem remarkably complex and controversial, the question is really simple and could easily be answered with a "yes" or "no," for which which some guests have opted.

When Stewart was doing this last night, the questions fell flat, they didn't have the punch or the punch-line that I would expect. It left Obama in the position to just answer the question as if he was visiting a real news program or a ladies' morning chat show.

This wasn't really funny to me, and I was expecting some smart comedy.

I couldn't put my finger on what I disliked so much until this morning, when I read the "Arts Beat" column in the New York Times. They pointed out:

Mr. Stewart seemed to feel that he needed to voice the concerns of liberals who are disappointed in Mr. Obama’s legislative record, one he described as "timid" instead of coming up with more offbeat questions of his own. And the president, who had earlier in the day answered questions from radio talk show hosts and liberal bloggers, easily parried Mr. Stewart’s complaints about the lack of real change in Washington. As is his wont, he gave long, reasoned answers about the economy, unemployment and populist frustration that Mr. Stewart couldn't or wouldn't interrupt. Sometimes, Mr. Stewart showed his own frustration by making fun of his inability to get a word in, interjecting in a high, squeaky whine, "It’s just been hard not to talk."
The TV Watch: Access and the Plight of the Political Comedian

That's it! He wasn't coming-up with the offbeat questions that I would expect, and he simply invited the President to give his standard election season answers.

I got bored with it pretty fast and tuned-out a couple of times before giving-up and going to bed.

Stewart could have asked about the dirty advertising of the G.O.P., or invited the President to talk at length about the disaster he inherited, or the selling of our nation to corporate interests -- anything besides the standard talking heads dialog. And I think Obama would have had good answers.

Stewart, and by extension, all of progressive America, lost a big opportunity last night to further the progressive theme of Obama's 2008 campaign. Instead we got a rather boring, unfunny half-hour hosted by one of television's funniest and most dynamic personalities.

Everyone's writing about it of course:

Obama makes historic appearance on 'Daily Show'

Probing questions and funny, too

Barack Obama Visits Daily Show, Jon Stewart Calls President "Timid"

Barrack Obama's less than humorous interview with Most Influential Man Jon Stewart

No comments: