Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Stewart vs. Colbert, sans writers: Colbert Wins!

Have any of you been watching the late night shows which are back on the air? I've started watching Leno on NBC's video rewind just because he didn't have writers. I must say that Leno is funnier without writers. He actually has to make up his own jokes and he's a really goddam funny comedian. But my personal favorites of late night are The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which just came back two days ago. I waited with excitement to see if Stewart and Colbert could make it on their own sans writers. The results are in: Colbert is funnier.

Here is a clip from A Daily Show with Jon Stewart:

His performance is like a parody of the Daily Show formula. Stewart has little to go on other than pulling faces and building up expectations with sound bites and then reacting to a staged contradiction. The formulas are there. The jokes aren't. What makes the Daily Show work are the clever responses which fit the formulae. The mock outrage or coy facial expressions or silly voices in reaction to a video montage. Without the writers, we have the frame without anything to put on it. So many of his jokes just fall flat. The entire Rudy-9/11 joke is old--you could blame that on the strike having 10 whole weeks to cover--Red State Update does it better (see several posts ago). Stewart pulls out all of his tricks--funny faces, bleeped obscenities, contradictory statements, funny voices, etc. But it doesn't work for me.

Now check out Colbert:

The jokes get bigger laughs and more genuine laughs. He's not as funny as he was with writers, but nevertheless, Colbert works better for two reasons: the show is all about him--he can run clips from previous episodes to make himself look better and he can relate the news to his persona rather than merely making light of the news a la Jon Stewart--and Colbert has improv training. Yeah. Colbert's improv ability, better planning, and the fact that he isn't forced to show real or mock concern for the writers meant — he could just do what he does best. To quote Dan Kois from New York Magazine:

Where Stewart was forced to build his show around his concern for the writers, and the strike in general, Colbert built his show around what it's always built around: "Colbert."
I'd have to say Colbert is funnier without writers. But I prefer Colbert with writers and definitely prefer Stewart with writers. May the strike end soon.

Check out the New York Magazine liveblog on the return episodes of "A Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" Very perceptive and more entertaining than a liveblog of a Republican or Democratic debate.

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