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Last Night's Late Night Fairness Check


I was curious. Obama jokes on Late Night TV, have been as rare as a smoking lounge in an airport. I wondered how the shows would do. (Certainly the writers know that their bias has been detected.) Would they turn their comedy knives against Obama with the same wild abandon they used on the previous President? The short answer: Maybe.

The only no-show of the night was David Letterman, who opted for a re-run. Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, Craig Ferguson, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert all weighed in last night with attempts at presidential humor.

The two topics universal throughout all the shows were Aretha Franklin’s hat and Dick Cheney’s wheelchair. Jon Stewart suggested that Aretha was wrapped up like a present and Jimmy Kimmel speculated that it was capable of flight. As for Dick Cheny’s Wheelchair: Craig Ferguson and Kimmel both suggested that it was the result of a pact with Satan; Jon Stewart and Jay Leno thought he should be petting as cat like Dr. Evil; Conan O’Brien suggested, that he looked like Mr. Potter from the Frank Capra classic.

Both Conan and Stewart took Obama’s biblical quote: “The time has come to set aside childish things.” for an opportunity to do some introspection. Conan retired three childish jokes and John Stewart giggled at corespondent Samantha Bee who looked at all the Balls in Washington. (Craig Ferguson also made a similar reference.)

For those of you who read my last post, and were curious, only Leno and Kimmel mentioned the botched oath of office.

The surprise of the evening came from Jon Stewart. He did a bit where he contrasted lines from Obama’s speech and found them surprisingly similar to lines that George W. Bush once uttered.

There are very few signs the writers will stop using President Bush as a material source. Conan and Stewart suggested that the exiting President might have pulled some kind of prank on Obama. (Ironic, considering the squalid condition George Bush found the White House in back in 2001.) Sarah Silverman composed a mostly unfunny goodbye to President Bush video for Keith Obermann’s show. Leno claimed the Obama Spider-Man comic book might help the President understand the transition and Conan said it was soooo cold the Bush approval rating hit minus 13.

All the hosts were tremendously self conscious about making fun of the new President. One of the funnier bits of the night was Jimmy Kimmel going into a black barbershop with a notepad to ask permission from actual black people on comedy topics that would be acceptable. Their first suggestion was making fun of Obama because he cannot dance. Strange, most comedians have been suggesting that he was the first President that could. Correspondent Wyatt Cenac even alluded to that on Stewart’s show in a segment about Obama as the first cool President*. Tim Meadows, (as PK Winsome) on Stephen Colbert also touched on the racial aspect of the new administration by making fun of a recurring question he hears from white journalists.

On a laugh scale, Colbert probably scored the lowest. He watched moments from the Inauguration, so touching and patriotic, that even a hard right wing Republican like himself burst into tears. Craig Ferguson was probably the funniest monologue of the night and the comic most willing to do Obama material.

On a whole I give all the late night hosts a C for the evening. They’re still way too apprehensive about making fun of the new president. I’m reminded of the scene from the movie “2001,” where the apes kept circling the monolith, and grunting; afraid to actually touch it.

I don’t blame them. In my lifetime, I’ve never seen a more monolithic President.

* I speculated that Obama was ruining the stereotype way back in July, when I gathered with three other comics on the Jerry Agar Show to make Obama jokes for a full hour. Here’s the news clip on my website about that show.

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