[6 December 2007]
Who’s honoring Stephen Colbert now? Not his “Best of” collection, a one-disc offering that chops two years’ worth of The Colbert Report into tiny pieces – thus robbing the various features of all sense of context and robbing viewers of more than a few memorable moments in the process.
A little late to the party, I didn’t get into The Daily Show—The Colbert Report’s parent program —until my sister coerced me into watching the DVD compilation of that series 2004 election coverage. That collection included 10 full episodes on three discs.
By the end of the first disc, I was hooked – host Jon Stewart says out loud all of the cutting remarks most viewers think up while watching politics coverage on TV. His team of correspondents – which, at the time, included Colbert – manage to keep straight faces while proving how ridiculous “real” news, can be.
The set doesn’t offer more laughs than The Colber Report, but the humor of “Indecision” builds with the election as the cast cruises from conventions to the debates to the big night.
The Best of the Colbert Report doesn’t have the benefit of an election year to provide built-in structure. But the decision to chop up the various episodes and present the material by segment is far less effective than taking the time to choose full episodes that showcase Colbert at his best.
Colbert actually alludes to the problem in one of the routines included on the disc, in which he brags that a money-making deal by YouTube will benefit him because he’s “all over” the site. Anyone with rudimentary computer skills and an hour to kill can surf the Internet and find all of the clips included on the “Best of” DVD.
Not that the DVD is a total drag. The truthiness is, Colbert can make just about anything funny, even his own sub-par retrospective. While The Daily Show works because the audience can snark along with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report works thanks to Colbert’s ability to completely disappear into the persona of the ultimate conservative jackass.
The bigger a pompous, ignorant jerk Colbert acts, the funnier he gets. He’s at his best working with straight men (or women) who aren’t in on the joke. Witness “Better Know a District”, Colbert’s attempt to profile a legislator in each of the country’s Congressional districts.
It’s not easy to get laughs while figuring out if Oregon is California’s Canada or Washington’s Mexico, but Colbert pulls it off. He also harmonizes with New York Congressman (and former ‘70s rocker) John Hall and hilariously finds his scolding kindergarten teacher match in Washington D.C. Congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Most of the classic moments of The Colbert Report’s initial seasons are included on the set (that, said where is “The War on Christmas?”). Colbert schemes to wrangle “his” Emmy from over coifed crooner Barry Manilow and drools over his “idol” Bill “Papa Bear” O’Reilly. He fights his way through “The Word” while going through the five stages of grief over a Democratic Congressional takeover – reminding the audience that, now, “Everybody’s high!”
Two encounters with actress/activist Jane Fonda are unexpected highlights. Colbert comes the closest to losing his cool while getting pawed by Fonda in a one-on-one interview and in a “feminist cooking” segment that spoofs all of those boring bake-offs on Live with Regis and Kelly .
The one full episode included on The Best of the Colbert Report is the “shred-off” between Colbert and the lead guitarist for indie rock band The Decembrists. It would have been impossible to choose the high points of this episode because the whole thing is classic Colbert: introductory posturing, a folksy serenade from the lead singer of The Apples in Stereo and an appearance by Henry Kissinger.
Watching “Guitarmageddon”, however, brings up another shortcoming of this “Best of” collection: no extras. Where is the behind-the-scenes documentary about putting this episode together? Or a selection of the best entries to Colbert’s Green Screen challenge? Or clips of Colbert’s now-infamous speech at the White House Correspondents’ dinner? Or his character-breaking interview on 60 Minutes?
Due to the Writers Guild of America on strike, it’s unclear when fans can catch the next new episode of The Colbert Report. The “Best of” collection fills some of the void, but the disc is just too flimsy to really earn the title of “must-have” even for die-hard fans, who will be happier finding their fix online.
Bottom line: We, the heroes, deserve better.