Colbert Candidacy: Put-On Perfected

The GOP debates could make a profit on Pay TV if they let Stephen Colbert join the panel. How much would it be worth to see him match wits with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry?

Sadly, like his other ventures, Colbert’s South Carolina candidacy is only fodder for his reality-blurring show, the perfection of a trend that began to emerge in the 1960s when TV made American life too complicated for Bob Hope-Milton Berle one-liners.

Rough sketches for the persona Colbert now presents were subjects back then for New Yorker critics such as Susan Sontag (“Notes on Camp”) and Jacob Brackman in “The Put-On” to define a slippery comedy in which the audience is in the know as a figure feigns utter seriousness while subverting a subject’s defenses.

Brackman could have been describing today’s Colbert in parsing the put-on as “it disorients the interviewee, ridicules the interview process, communicates ‘real’ ideas and feelings yet deflates the seriousness of questions and replies.”

Only clueless Al Gore has breached this implicit agreement by referring to “your character” during an interview, shocking Colbert into a “My character?” reaction.

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Author: ROBERT STEIN