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Not a Good Thing To Complain About


 

David Frum says that Stephen Colbert took his words out of context. Stephen Colbert. Apart from the point that it’s not really out of context (even in his preferred version, he’s saying that McCain is an exciting story because McCain is running despite his advanced age and lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy), I have to think it’s not a good idea to complain about the way you’re quoted on The Colbert Report, unless you’re specifically trying to get Colbert to mention you again.

Colbert must be utterly frustrating for anyone who appears or is quoted on the show, because of the one-upmanship element: because he’s playing a character, there’s no good way to respond to anything he says. This is different from The Daily Show because Stewart is playing himself, more or less, so when he says something, he seems to be sort of standing behind it, even if it is a joke. (Though responding to Stewart in that way has similar pitfalls.) But with Colbert, you can’t tell if he’s speaking as himself or the Colbert character, whom he clearly despises — so anyone who responds to him will look like he doesn’t get the joke. The exception is somebody like the Mayor of Oshawa who responded to Colbert in the spirit of the routine Colbert was doing. Otherwise it’s just better to either stay out of the issue or just say it’s not funny, which is the only thing that can shame a comedian. (Antonin Scalia had a sensible response to Jon Stewart’s barbs: call them “childish.” The only way Stewart could respond to that was by agreeing that his show can be childish, because it can. If Scalia had complained that his comments had been taken out of context, on the other hand, he’d have been torn to shreds.)


 
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