Colbert & Stewart: One Formidable Opponent

Howard Dean was on The Daily Show last night. The interview was all smiles and laughs but chock-a-block full of important and substantive information. It went on for an unusually long 9 minutes and ran right up into the commercial break.

Stewart commented on Jeremiah Wright on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday’s shows and — in contrast to every other cable news show — his clear and conclusive emphasis was on how miffed with the media he was because “this issue which should have only had enough fuel to last one news cycle has somehow lasted eight news cycles.”

Now Stewart’s is not a news show. It doesn’t have to obey the “News” rules, so it is not able to speak with that “News” authority. No, Stewart’s is a comedy show.

And as my friend Bob Thompson, Professor of Television and Popular Culture and Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, told me in an interview I did with him last month, that’s its blessing:

Any comic fool can rush in, where the angels of journalists and historians fear to tread. And as we know if we’ve ever watched any Shakespearian tragedy, fools can often be the wisest people on the stage.

Bob reminds us that comedy does not have to deal with the inconvenience of checking facts, getting multiple sources, or trying to get it right. Comedy gets to make stuff up! But it’s also able to intellectually explore lots of the stuff that neither journalism nor history can because they’re both so bound by facts.

That comic freedom has obvious attractions to intellectually active and politically engaged young minds. So I’m thinking that Stewart and his spin-off Stephen Colbert are out there dog-whistling to the youth-vote. And I’m wondering how accurate we’ve got that measured. Aren’t they — with their cell phones and non-traditional media habits — a demographic we’ve traditionally had trouble tracking anyway?

Maybe the Colbert bump holds a clue. It was in the news a while back as a legit phenom for Dems (Republicans need not apply). Thompson gives it the benefit of the doubt:

You know, some people might say, well how can this be? I think the burden of proof is on proving that there is no such thing as the Colbert bump. I think the common sense assumption would be that, yeah, there probably is. Until proven otherwise, that seems to be the commonsense thing that one would have.

Bonus video… Colbert on the formidable opponent. He’s got that right!