Tonight i saw a life performance of Stephen Colbert and here are my 5 cents*.
Up until about three hours before the show, i was certain that we are going to sit in a nice Bailey Hall with excellent acoustics and good stage view. However i learned that we are going to sit in a huge Barton Hall, which in fact is a sport facility. The place accommodated 5000 people, and Colbert was giving two of those shows tonight. That of course revealed some of the mystery as to how he was convinced to come here in the first place, after all the tickets were $25 and up.
But leaving the economic aspects of the show aside, how was it?
My initial reaction is that he is much funnier on TV compared to a live show. The jokes are more fluent and probably more rehearsed. You could see it when he would loose track of thought and actually read into the script. At one point, he didn’t have the script, which caused some confusion that was resolved quickly and positively in a jokily manner. More importantly however, on TV he doesn’t have to downgrade the humor to the college level. A few (rather anticipated) jokes about Cornell would do it, but he chose to dedicate about 1/3-1/2 of his talk to it. At some point, he went into sex jokes to a degree i was questioning if it was him on the stage, not to mention the excessive use of f-words. Something of the way he delivers the message on TV was lost when he tried to adjust, maybe a little bit too much, to the audience.
At the same time, it was interesting to see how he actually interacts with live audience. It seems like there are some questions he (and frankly I) really would like to know answers to, such as how come people do not distinguish his character from him and how come younger people tend to consume their news from him and the Daily Show. A few times, answering to calls for him to run for presidency he repeated that he is fake. It reached a point where he just said “I don’t really want to run, i just want to f@#k with people”, which seems to me a noble satiric goal. At the same time people were really obsessive with the idea of him running. At the end of the show he held a Q&A session using an interesting tactics. As verbose as he appears in his monologues, so concise and rather serious he was in answering the question. People were trying to get out of their skin to ask the more provocative/”smart” questions (like a girl who asked if he would give her a job or a fraternity guy who invited him to a party), but to many of those the answer was a simple “yes/no”. I think in this session you could see the John Stewart influences, for many times Colbert was making the joke simply by mimicking the person asking the question. However here you could see a little bit of the real Colbert the person passionate about what he is doing – when asked about career for starting comedian, he went into untypical lengthly and serious answer, and only towards the end remembered to make a joke out of it. The highlight of this session was of course a girl who claimed to be such a burn Colbert fun that her life wouldn’t be complete if she wouldn’t hug him (and yes, she got the hug).
During the whole evening a question about political role of current generation was kind of in the air. Colbert the character accused the current generation being active only digitally, not making influence in the real world. Colbert the actor, when asked again on the issue, tried to redeem himself by saying that this generation is not that bad, “look at the all money you guys raised online”. However, donating money does not demand as much as actually getting involved in convincing people in political opinion or even just voting. Poking in Facebok, or joining a group that supports Colbert for presidency, is by far easer than getting on the streets and getting involved in civic activism, trying to bring the change. So for me, the original question Colbert the character raised about the actual political participation of the youth remains open. And I think he is doing a good job in opening those questions.
A girl came up to make a point that he has a support pointing out at the great support he gained on Facebook, and Colbert sincerely asked “what does that mean?”. Although she tried to say that there are over million students supporting them, i remained with a questions. What does joining a support group for Colbert on Facebook actually mean? How much of it is done just for fun (similarly to the wikipedia changes that he so much likes to promote), and how much of this is actually support of people who think he can do it? And what does it mean if the people who joined the group, or who are using it to support their point, actually believe that he can is a potential candidate?
All in all it was nice, refreshing break with some light humor, but i keep on thinking is there more to political satire than just making us smile?
* It is historically 5 cents and not 2, since i made this mistake a long time ago and it stuck. Besides, using Colbert’s tactics, which seem to work, if everybody else’s opinion is 2 cents, mine has to be 5 cents for sure! :)