Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Nathan Rabin's Omnibus To Nowhere: Marathon Talk Show Edition

Hey you guys, I've been doing a lot of thinking about talk shows as of late, in part because I just saw Conan in Chicago (thanks NBC!) and in part because I've been making my way through the Dick Cavett "Comedy Legends" DVD with my dad. It's tempting to overrate Cavett, who embodies a type we don't see too much of these days: the Public Intellectual. Well into middle-aged Cavett retained the slightly insufferable air of an ever-so-clever prep school prodigy. He somehow never stopped being an overly precocious teenager. When Cavett interviews Groucho Marx or Jerry Lewis you half expect him to jump into their laps and begin purring like a cat. There's reverence and then there's deification. Cavett stops just short of erecting makeshift shrines to his more esteemed guests. Furthermore Cavett's a terrible comedian. His opening monologues would probably still feel like inert laugh-free zones even if many of his references weren't lost forever in the quicksand of the time. And yet every once in a while The Dick Cavett show isn't just good; it's damn near transcendent. Like the surreal moment when Groucho Marx asks Truman Capote if he'll ever settle down and find a nice girl to marry. Or when Jack Benny, Bill Cosby and Joe Frazier get into such a good groove together that Cavett damn near faded into invisibility. At its best The Dick Cavett Show is like a bizarre show business happening where anything feels possible. It's jazz and there's an electricity to the show, an exhilarating sense of spontaneity. In that respect it's a lot like the early seasons of Saturday Night Live, which weren't always funny. In fact sometimes early SNL was screamingly unfunny. But there's a sense of spontaneity and unpredictability that's all but missing from contemporary television. They also seem infinitely more plugged into the cultural zeitgeist. With Cavett I dread the monologue but dig the interviews, which is the opposite of how I usually respond to talk shows. With programs like Letterman, Conan, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report I generally dig the comedy segments and monologue and grudgingly tolerate the interviews. Part of this is due to the packaged, publicist-managed predictability of contemporary interviews. The guest will come on, plug their movie, tell two pre-planned anecdotes about said movie, show a clip, plug their television show and leave before anything too interesting happeens. Nothing is left to chance, unlike the Dick Cavett Show where many of the guests don't seem to have a project to plug. Hell, much of the time they don't even seem to know what they're doing or saying. Of all the contemporary interviewers I probably like Colbert the best. His interviews represent a strange cross between a conventional Q&A; and a weird performance-art piece. W ain't the only person he makes uncomfortable. I don't know if you guys saw this but a few weeks back he had on an arch-Conservative "let's all return to the barefoot and pregnant model of femininity" anti-feminist on. Colbert pushed her regressive argument well past the point of absurdity until she was essentially arguing for a return to caveman grab-mate-and-violate-in-cave dynamic. And here's the weird part: she seemed to be really into it. She emitted a strangely hypnotic combination of feral sexiness and Republican housewife frumpiness that was really kind of fascinating. And strangely hot. Here's my question for you guys: why do you think Conservatives agree to appear on The Colbert Report? Beyond the obvious all-publicity-is-good-publicity motive? Don't they realize that if they agree with "Colbert" they look like insane right-wing lunatics and if they don't they seem like humorless jerks not in on the joke? It's kind of a lose-lose proposition. I almost feel sorry for Bill Kristol, who invariably ends up getting his ass handed to him by both Colbert and Stewart. Speaking of Stewart, am I the only one mildly annoyed by his condescending "Oh man it is so unbelievably lame that I have to interview Dermot Mulroney. I'd so much rather be talking to the Senior Analyst of Southeast Asia at the Carnegie Institute?" The last time I checked it wasn't the editor of Newsweek who provided the voice of the bad guy in "Doogal". We get it. You're very smart. But calling attention to your intelligence is seldom very becoming. I'm talking to you too, Cavett. Don't get me wrong, I still love the show though. I'd also like to take back my initial praise of Jason Jones, who seemingly gets less funny with each segment. He seems like the kind of overgrown frat boy who should be shoving geeks in lockers alongside Craig Kilbourn, who I'm fairly certain used to beat me up in high school, though I could be wrong. What do you guys think? Or are you all talk-show-talked out? Anyone else digging the Cavetts?

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