I heard David Steinberg once said that, “A comedian has to have a point of view”. You look at some comedians known for being a buffoon like Tommy Smothers and not realize that he had a very strong point of view and a specific direction for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. As I listed in my Comedy Grievances CHILD OF TELEVISION: March 2005, “Comedians are accused of not taking things seriously” (David Letterman’s sarcastic style might fall under this category at times). This is far from the truth. Comedians, comedy writers and humorists are some the most serious and well read people I know. Another grievance I had is that comedians are expected to be funny on demand and the example I gave was the heated exchange between Jon Stewart and Tucker Carlson on Crossfire. Jon Stewart Crossfire Transcript
STEWART: You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.
CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.
STEWART: You need to go to one. The thing that I want to say is, when you have people on for just knee-jerk, reactionary talk…
CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.
STEWART: No. No. I’m not going to be your monkey.
For good or bad, many Americans turn to late night comedians for their news. I’d even say that there are times when comedians can do a more effective job at presenting the news than the newscasters themselves (Jon Stewart does it most of the time). After all they are sometimes using the same source material and just adding a punch line to it. David Letterman and Jay Leno do, in my opinion, make a good faith effort to be, dare I say it, “fair and balanced” when it comes to political humor something they learned from the master Johnny Carson. Even then there are those times where they can’t resist slamming someone. Still both comedians will always be criticized just because they joked about certain politician that was deemed off limits by someone void of humor. Since Jon Stewart specifically makes fun of the newsmakers and the news media. He targets those are currently in power and how the media covers them. All three comedians I listed have a specific point of view and then choose to play their cards close to the vest or lay them all out on the table. On Dave’s January 3rd show he decided to lay out all his cards on the table or in this case his desk.
Dave started his interview with Bill O’Reilly by having Bill recite his resume that included Inside Edition, ABC News and CBS News. Dave then asked Bill about his holidays where Bill responded with, “I had a nice winter solstice”. Bill then talks about how saying Merry Christmas is politically incorrect and list some examples including a school in Dodgeville, Wisconsin where the kids were made to sing a revised version of Silent Night (NOTE: Some Bloggers report this to be not true). Later in the interview Bill takes a swipe at Cindy Sheehan and the interview Dave’s tone shifts.
O’REILLY: And when people call them that, like Cindy Sheehan called the insurgents ‘freedom fighters,’ we don’t like that. It is a vitally important time in American history. And we should all take it very seriously. Be very careful with what we say.
LETTERMAN: Well, and you should be very careful with what you say also.
O’REILLY: Give me an example.
LETTERMAN: How can you possibly take exception with the motivation and the position of someone like Cindy Sheehan?
O’REILLY: Because I think she’s run by far-left elements in this country. I feel bad for the woman.
LETTERMAN: Have you lost family members in armed conflict?
O’REILLY: No, I have not.
LETTERMAN: Well, then you can hardly speak for her, can you?
You can read the wholetranscript or watch the Video online. Please send me your thoughts. Since the broadcast I have seen Articles, Blogs and news shows covering the Letterman O’Reilly interview and it seems that those who are on the left are in Dave’s camp and those who are on the right are in Bill’s camp. Most people will judge the whole event on Dave’s one line.
LETTERMAN: I’m not smart enough to debate you point to point on this, but I have the feeling, I have the feeling about 60 percent of what you say is crap. But I don’t know that for a fact.
Should Dave have said that? I have made no secret that I am not a fan of Bill O’Reilly so of course I enjoyed seeing Dave taking him down a peg. And since the interview it looks like Bill is getting some mileage from it. Perhaps Dave baited Bill on the Christmas topic but when Bill made his comment about Cindy Sheehan, Dave had to speak his mind and present an opposing view. It’s obvious that he was not playing devil’s advocate. Another thing comedians do is articulating what everyone else is thinking and Dave expressed what a lot of people would like to say if given a chance. Finally to those critics who say that Dave crossed the line and should have kept things light, I have to remind them of Dave’s post 9/11 show (September 17, 2001). Dave getting on the air and speaking his mind opened the door for every other comedian working at the time. This was also the show where an emotional Dan Rather apologized for not being professional on the air. Dave reminded Mr. Rather that he was a human being and I remind you that Mr. Letterman is also a human being.
To quote David Letterman (Speaking to Bill O’Reilly) “Yeah, but I think there’s something, this fair and balanced. I’m not sure that it’s, I don’t think that you represent an objective viewpoint”.
It is amazing that those that the public has a hard time taking seriously understands what it is to be fair and balanced better than those who consider themselves to be journalists are. Maybe that’s why many Americans choose to get their news from late night comedians.