This Week in Political Comedy: The Way of Oprah

“Rahm Emanuel is leaving the Obama administration. He wants to become mayor of Chicago. If you’re mayor of Chicago, that means you report directly to Oprah.” –David Letterman

There were few news shockers this week to bring comedians together. In the absence of any one big story, the late night hosts spent the week talking about the heat in Los Angeles and the rain in New York and Dancing with the Stars, while Stewart and Colbert spent the week talking about each other. Both shows mentioned the Rally to Restore Sanity and the Rally to Keep Fear Alive in every episode.

This could sound self-absorbed, but everyone else was talking about them too. Even President Obama came out Thursday in support of the Daily Show rally. This endorsement would seem to be almost as important as Oprah’s. Instead, it just shows how far the president has fallen in the Daily Show team’s eyes. Yes, Obama’s remarks made the opening segment for both the Daily Show and Colbert last night. But as comedians know, you’re not really promoting something unless you ironically brag about it on Twitter. Only one endorsement merited an acknowledgment tweet from the official Rally4Sanity account. No points for guessing who.

Yet we should never pretend that praise gets more attention than criticism. On Friday, Stephen Colbert testified before Congress on the issue of migrant labor. We would expect criticism from the political opposition, but even some Democrats felt the need to distance themselves. Majority leader Steny Hoyer said Colbert was “an embarrassment.” (Hoyer’s condemnation has increased his visibility in Washington, meriting one of the more surreal and pointless quotes to appear in the political press: “There is a difference in style. [Nancy] Pelosi is more like Stephen Colbert, and Hoyer is more like Jon Stewart,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) told Politico. “Colbert comes right in there, and Stewart is a little more laid back. They are [sic] style differences, that’s more like how I describe it. They’re moving in the same direction; they need each other. Colbert and Stewart play off one another.”)

Many fans have noted that the committee seems to have forgotten Colbert’s roast of President Bush at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006. (At the time, even more talking heads condemned it as offensive and unfunny than condemned his performance Friday. The Correspondents Dinner performance has since become one of classic comic moments of the decade and has been considered a “defining moment” leading up to the Republican’s defeat that November.)

There was an even closer warning sign that the Congressional Democrats forgot. As one of his first acts as Caucus leader after Democrats won back control of the House in 2006, Rahm Emanuel forbade his party’s representatives from sitting for Colbert’s Better Know a District series. Emanuel, Colbert noted, “thinks my Better Know a District series could threaten the Democratic stranglehold.”

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Emanuel Attacks Stephen
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

Colbert’s conclusion? “Evidently Congressman Emanuel likes bossing around black women.” (So good luck dealing with Oprah, sir.)

Jon Stewart came to Colbert’s defense Monday night, devoting a segment to addressing how Colbert “ruined Congress.” Noting of Colbert’s digs that “it’s funny because it’s sad,” Stewart addressed the charge that Colbert wasted Congress’ and the taxpayers’ time by playing a medley of the pointless and symbolic resolutions Congress has spent its time on while ignoring significant issues. As if to prove him right, immediately afterward the Senate passed a bill banning loud commercials on late night TV. Jimmy Fallon: “That’s right, 100 of our most brilliant elected leaders came together to achieve basically the same thing as my remote.”

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Truthiness to Power
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Jon Stewart has spent much of his recent promotional tour going after Glenn Beck as part of the lead up to his Beck-mocking rally. Beck struck back this week with a just plain weird condemnation of both the rallies and Colbert’s testimony, saying of both hosts “they will go the way of Oprah Winfrey.” His reasoning had something to do with rating trends over time, which would seem to be a big concern for Beck’s listeners. To the rest of us, though, it almost sounds like an anointment. If this rally is the chance for Stewart to convert his audience from a demographic into a constituency, a group as deserving of attention as the Tea Party, Oprah’s about as good a model as you can get.


Craig Ferguson broke the fourth wall a bit on Wednesday night, in defense of the frivolous in political comedy. Sometimes, it can be a lifesaver. “We shouldn’t judge candidates on what they stood for 25 years ago. It’s what they stand for today. Because if you look at Christine O’Donnell now, past the media hubbub and what she’s actually saying, you’ll see she’s fucking insane. But look, I work in late-night television, and frankly we kind of need one of those every now and again. It helps, is what I’m saying. Look, give me one out of 100. Give me one!”

The Colossal Donut Index

This week’s CDI is 6, down 50% from last week’s high. Our gratitude goes out to all comedians for your restraint. (Read about the Colossal Donut Index.)

Stephen Hoban is a writer living in New York.

This Week in Political Comedy: The Way of Oprah