Last night, like you, we were thrilled to sit down and watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report as they returned from their WGA–strike-induced hiatus. It was going to be great, we assumed. Either that, or it was going to suck, which would also kind of be great, in the whole "this will get us a lot of mileage by the office soda machine tomorrow" kind of way. So we tuned in, AND, in a Daily Intel first, we IMed about it with our culturally superior colleague, the Vulture blog. As it turned out, the two shows weren't all laughs and rubber faces. In fact, The Daily Show turned out to be a bit of a tough act to swallow (and follow; as a lead-in, it must have cost The Colbert Report some viewers). Since Vulture knows more about the nuances of the writers' strike, they are hosting our conversation about Jon Stewart's somber effort. But below, here's what Vulture editor Dan Kois and Intel editor Chris Rovzar had to say about last night's glorious episode of Colbert:
Kois: HAHAHAHAH. "This is the ColberT ReporT."
Rovzar: HAHAHA. We're already laughing! He pronounced it the white-trashy way.
Rovzar: Did you read that GQ story about when he changed his last name at Northwestern? I loved that.
Rovzar: It used to actually be COLbert. With the "t" pronounced, when he grew up in South Carolina or whatever
Kois: So he just did it to be intentionally snooty? Awesome. ColBERTian, actually.
Rovzar: Yeah, in the article he is really actually not that funny about it. He was, like, deeply emotionally ruined by it, or something. Wow, Steven is getting like a three-minute standing ovation.
Kois: Colbert's no idiot; he's milking it, because then he has less dead air.
Rovzar: Look, he's tapping his watch. He probably planned this.
Kois: I guess the revolution happened already. Colbert has won.
Rovzar: He is actually seating people individually.
Kois: God, it would be great if this was the whole episode.
Rovzar: You just want to start IMing me pictures of your baby, don't you?
Kois: No. Yes.
Kois: So it looks like he's going to be funny and confused about the strike. He's complaining that "there are no words in that prompter."
Rovzar: Having the cameras shoot the other cameras is sort of straightforward meta, as opposed to confusing meta like on The Daily Show.
Kois: Genius — Colbert's character is wholly unaware of the strike. What a relief. Now he can move on to the fun.
Rovzar: Ha. Confused Colbert calls the writers "the guys on the fourth floor with the opium bongs and the Guitar Hero." I knew we were writing for the wrong outlet.
Rovzar: It makes you wonder how much Colbert and Stewart talked about it. They took two totally different approaches that didn't really dovetail. Oh, Colbert is going straight to the Iowa caucus! THANK GOD.
Rovzar: And he goes right for Huckabee. "If Huckabee won, you know who really won: ME."
Kois: And Vulture!
Rovzar: "Huckleberry '08." It was inevitable.
Kois: On a side note, I know we are mostly just joking about Huckabee, but what do I do about the fact that he is BY FAR the funniest candidate?
Rovzar: He is.
Kois: That is basically the only criteria I have for voting. Like, gay rights and sense of humor. He's 1 for 2!
Rovzar: Wow, me too. Except of the two of us, I'm the one who is gay. And, you know, funny. Meanwhile, Colbert's video shtick from last week's victory speeches seems written. Granted, he's had a few days since the Iowa caucus, but they're good jokes. "The Mayor of Whooville"? "The Lead Singer from the Spin Doctors"? Comic GOLD.
Kois: It's all been written. Less obviously than Stewart's, but clearly written.
Kois: Ooh, he did a flashback to the Grit-Off.
Rovzar: And then this: Obama "won't talk to me, but look at who he will talk to!" Colbert then runs a clip from the YouTube debate about how Obama would meet with leaders from Syria, Iran, and Venezuela. "He won't talk to me, but he'll talk to Mahmoud AhmaWritersGuildOfAmericaJAd?!"
Kois: Wow, that is nice transcription.
Rovzar: I am actually having sex right now but am only paying attention to the television.
Kois: Ooh, now he's doing a montage. Montages are actually a great way to handle the strike.
Rovzar: That's a koan for our time. But he won't be able to do the Word, today, huh? That's the one thing that's so heavily written
Kois: WAIT. "I don't need writers," he just said. "Which brings me to tonight's Word."
Rovzar: Pause. "And that's the Word. We'll be right back." Well played. I have been wondering what he would do about that.
Kois: It's fun on the rare occasions that "Stephen Colbert" is brought face to face with his own ignorance.
Rovzar: It is.
Kois: Oh, good, a "change" montage from the Democratic debate.
Rovzar: Hillary has a funny southern accent sometimes, have you noticed?
Kois: Yeah, when she gets preachy.
Kois: This is turning into an ad for the First National Change Bank. "We make change. That's … what we do."
Rovzar: ANDREW SULLIVAN IS THE GUEST. YES.
Kois: OH, NICE. ANDREW SULLIVAN: SCAB!
Rovzar: He sounds a little weird out loud. I say that with all due respect as a gay and an Andrew Sullivan reader.
Kois: Wait, what is his accent? Where is he from?
Rovzar: He's British.
Kois: He is?
Rovzar: Yeah, originally. He's not a citizen, I don't think. So him talking about "us" and who "we" need is a little weird.
Kois: He sounds as though he's stuck somewhere in, like, eighteenth-century Massachusetts.
Rovzar: I can just imagine him churning butter in a peasant frock. Now Sullivan is talking about showing a picture of Obama to a child in Lahore, Pakistan, and how that would change the way people view America. Colbert's response: "You're saying we should base our choice for president on what some potential terrorist thinks?" Hilar.
Kois: Because just his PICTURE would end terrorism. He doesn't even need to talk! We could just elect Obama's photo!
Rovzar: I secretly think Obama is less handsome than conventional wisdom would suggest.
Kois: NO. NO. NEVER. DO NOT SAY THAT. HE IS A GORGEOUS PICKUP-BASKETBALL GOD.
Rovzar: Or that.
Kois: Sullivan was a good match for Colbert, and he did very well here — especially because he is used to interviewing in character. This is where improv training comes in handy; he's very easily able to find the fun part of a conversation and spin it out as "Colbert."
Kois: A second guest. Another labor expert!
Rovzar: WAIT, HE'S DOING THE SAME THING AS STEWART?
Kois: Yeah, but it's already 11:54, so he can't do it as long.
Rovzar: Colbet just read the guy's résumé, which includes degrees from Harvard and the LSE. He asks: "Tell me about unions you blue-collar brute!"
Kois: This guy's giving him a run for his money. He's getting applause from the audience, causing Colbert to stop them with, "I haven't crushed him yet, please!"
Rovzar: That dude has fake teeth; no question.
Kois: Who would win in a tooth fight between him and Chuck Norris?
Rovzar: Norris, duh. Did you see the dude during Huckabee's victory speech in Iowa? He for sure blinded anyone with HD. But, seriously, why is this guest allowed to wear a fedora on someone else's show?
Kois: Perhaps it is unnaturally cold in the studio?
Rovzar: He looks like Tim Russert on an "off day."
Kois: This interview works better than Stewart's because Colbert's shtick has always been to play the devil's advocate to an uncomfortable degree. So he can argue with this guy all day long.
Rovzar: Plus, his improv is much better.
Kois: Yeah. But he's also not trying to suddenly have a serious conversation about the strike. He's just doing his show.
Rovzar: Here's a funny response. The guest made some quote about 50 percent of America being involved with labor unions. Colbert shoots back: "You can get 50 percent of America to agree to anything." To the audience, he asks: "How many people here want to be a pirate?" Everyone goes bananas. "That's 100 percent of this random sampling of Americans," Colbert points out. Yeah, he's doing it right.
Kois: He closes with: "Well, that's it for the show. Writers, I'll see you in my dreams." That whole show was excellent.
Rovzar: I'm thinking back on The Daily Show as compared to this, and I'm having weird déjà vu.
Rovzar: I think one time I watched something stoned from the couch I'm sitting on, where I was trying to figure out if something on TV was boring and dumb on purpose. Actually, come to think of it, that's probably happened to me hundreds of times
Kois: Yeah, that's universal. Although maybe not on your couch
Rovzar: This couch gets around. It's Ikea.
Kois: Summing up: I couldn't have been more wrong about who would do well tonight.
Rovzar: Me too. Though, we should have known in retrospect.
Kois: 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.
Kois: 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."
Rovzar: And yet he made the same statements as Stewart: He had humility about his own skills without his writers (by acknowledging he couldn't do the Word), and a nod to the seriousness of the union's complaints (by inviting on the professor to speak about labor issues).
Kois: He totally did.
Rovzar: I'm very impressed. But Stewart didn't want to be good.
Kois: He wanted to sound notes rather than do a show. Who knows how people really feel about their jobs, but this sure makes it seem like Stephen Colbert loves his job and Jon Stewart has had about enough of his. Colbert seemed like he was champing at the bit to get back; Stewart much less so.
Rovzar: Stewart has always had a way of getting serious at moments, though. It may not be a sign of him being tired. It may be a sign of how much he cares.
Kois: Like Hillary!
Rovzar: JUST LIKE HILLARY.
If you can believe it, we had even more to say about the Daily Show.