As the bafflingly popular multiple shitgasm that is the [Genre] Movie series proves, parody is very difficult to do successfully for anything longer than, ooh, about four minutes. This is especially true when the thing you’re cocking a whimsical snook at is pretty much a self-parody anyway, like modern horror movies, or in this case, Fox News. Luckily for us, where David “Airplane Top Secret Naked Gun BASEketball” Zucker set about buggering up his legacy by taking on the task of Scary Movies three and four, along with Superhero Movie and, very probably the worst film we have ever sat through, Michael Moore Movie, Stephen Colbert has succeeded magnificently. Despite his on-screen persona largely being an extended caricature of Fox News’ “personality pundits”, most directly head gobshite Bill O’Reilly, Colbert has managed to keep his satirical plates spinning for well over 500 episodes (or plates) to date, with a remarkably high hit rate. Or, if we’re keeping an already ill-judged analogy going, “a remarkably low smashed plate rate”.
A former correspondent on The Daily Show (which would be even higher in this rundown were it not for the pesky fact it started in 1996), Colbert plays an egocentric conservative political pundit given his own current affairs show, and has described his character as “a well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot”. Where the workload on The Daily Show is shared in part between Jon Stewart and the Daily Show team of ‘reporters’, there are only very occasional scenes where The Colbert Report doesn’t feature Stephen Colbert. It’s generally all him, for about one hundred half-hour episodes per year (yes, and his team of writers coming up with things for him to say, but still).
One of the best things about The Colbert Report is that, while we suspect the targets of his satire would love his show to be unpopular with those they deem “true Americans” – a situation highlighted by the time Bill O’Reilly appeared on The Daily Show and remarked with weary disdain “I hear you’ve got some French guy making fun of me”, or indeed when O’Reilly was shoved into the guest slot on Colbert’s show in order to plug one of his books, and put in a clearly unimpressed performance. However, when Colbert spent a week in June 2009 recording USO shows in Iraq for serving US troops (“Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando”), he received a truly rapturous welcome from the servicemen and women present, even if his subtle nod to Bob Hope’s USO shows from the 1940s onwards – walking on stage with a golf club – might not have been recognised by all present. His Iraq shows also included specially recorded inserts from Presidents Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton and Bush Sr, along with John McCain, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin – possibly because some of them were fearful of being seen to ‘snub our brave troops’, but their contributions certainly seemed genuine enough.
For anyone reading this in the UK who hasn’t yet had the opportunity of watching The Colbert Report, we’d say the “Operation Iraqi Stephen” episodes are a good place to start – as far removed from his regular episodes as possible, but a good way of getting into his humour if you don’t usually keep up with events in the US, and proof indeed that when done really well, political satire can be appreciated by both sides of the ideological fence. Sadly, if you are in the UK, you’ll need to resort to getting your Colbert fix through illicit means – while FX stopped broadcasting the show over here in May 2009, and it has yet to find another channel here, yet trying to watch it over the web at ColbertNation.com merely results in a message telling Britannia-based Colbert fans that the streaming shows aren’t available here, because FX UK have the rights to it. Problem is - this hasn’t been the case for almost eight months. Our tip: while you could just use Ultrasurf to try and trick ColbertNation into thinking you’re American, it’s much easier to nab the show from a torrent site or Rapidshare forum. But, to keep it ethical, press pause after watching twelve minutes of it, and imagine a few adverts for turning gold into cash and personal injury lawyers, so it’d be more like Colbert is still on FX UK after all.
If there is a down side to all this, it’s that Fox News have a new cheerleader for knuckleheads: Glenn Beck, with whom we’re sure you’re all aware. All the same, we would like to point out just how apt it is that when Beck is delivering a monologue at his desk, the section of his animated ‘logo’ visible over his right shoulder resembles – appropriately enough – a warning symbol for a big red arse pumping out a load of foul guff. Maybe the Daily Show team will feel the need to lampoon Beck as well, but the problem is, short of showing a comically fat man rolling around a studio in a big nappy, burbling “I done a poo, and it’s just like what the liberal media has done to this great country” every thirty seconds before holding up a picture of the World Trade Center and bursting into tears as a finale, we don’t think it’s even possible.
[UPDATE: As vigilant commentgoer Adam kindly points out, you can buy The Colbert Report legally in the UK, by paying iTunes £1.89 per episode, or £9.99 for fifteen of them. We do think that’s a little expensive seeing as American Colbert-likers also get the free, streaming, ad-supported version so cruelly denied to us.]