Comedy Rambo

By DAVID BIANCULLI  |  November 16, 2007

The night Colbert announced his candidacy on his own show, he lampooned the pompous ritual politicians often undergo by preceding his announcement to “run” with the revelation that, “after nearly 15 minutes of soul-searching, I have heard the call.”

After South Carolina rebuffed his efforts to get on the official ballot, Colbert sent out an official statement in lieu of granting interviews:

“I am shocked and saddened by the South Carolina Democratic Executive Council’s 13-to-3 vote to keep me off their presidential-primary ballot,” he said. “Although I lost by the slimmest margin in presidential election history — only 10 votes — I have chosen not to put the country through another agonizing Supreme Court battle. It is time for this nation to heal.”

Then, shrewdly folding the effect of that day’s strike announcement into his narrative, Colbert added: “I want to say to my supporters, This is not over.

“While I may accept the decision of the Council, the fight goes on! The dream endures! . . . And I am going off the air until I can talk about this without weeping.”

The very next day, out giving a speech but no longer doing his TV show, Colbert told the crowd, “I’m looking into the legality of mocking the candidates door to door.”

While so much of what Colbert says is intentionally outrageous, his stated goal of “mocking the candidates” is very close to the truth. Mocking them while simultaneously mocking the media circus that surrounds, anoints, and destroys them. Colbert, by wanting to run for president (run, not be), sought to lampoon the process, mingle with actual voters and fellow nominees, and use humor as a weapon to deliver some serious messages and warnings about our politics and our politicians. When the writers’ strike is over, even without getting on a single ballot, Colbert is likely to pick up the gauntlet somehow. It’s too funny — and too serious — not to. Expect him to resurface, with a campaign that relies only on write-in votes, the old Pat Paulsen way.

And if this next election year doesn’t work out, there’s always 2028. Just ask Will Rogers.

“The thing that stopped our party,” Rogers wrote in 1928, in his final Life magazine column about his playful Anti-Bunk Party run for the presidency, “is that we are a hundred years ahead of our times . . .

“In the year 2028,” he continued, “the acceptance speeches will read: ‘I pledge myself, if elected, to appoint a Committee to look into the condition of the farmer, to keep the tariff so that it will protect the most voters, and absolutely pledge myself  to take the question of Prohibition right out of politics.’ ”

All these years later, there’s a certain amount of truthiness to that. There’s a certain amount of Will Rogers in Colbert, and a big chunk of Paulsen, too. In 1968’s Pat Paulsen for President special, a politician introducing Paulsen told the crowd, “Will Rogers never met a man he didn’t like. Pat Paulsen never met a woman he didn’t like.”

And Stephen Colbert, it seems, never met a person he couldn’t skewer.

In one of his last Colbert Report shows before the strike, Colbert introduced a fellow dark-horse candidate — chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, running an opposition campaign for president of Russia — by announcing, “Finally! Someone else who sees the world in black and white!”

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