This Week in Political Comedy: The Colossal Donut Index
The Colossal Donut Index is an attempt to grapple with a conundrum. This wouldn’t be a complete look at political comedy if it ignored Sarah Palin’s savant-like facility for frequent idiotic behavior. But even acknowledging Sarah Palin is only contributing to the problem. So from here on out, Sarah Palin’s presence in comedy will be noted each week by number alone, and that number will be her Colossal Donut Index (CDI). After this week, the former governor of Alaska’s name will never again be invoked.
The Colossal Donut, you will remember, comes from the Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horrors episode Attack of the 50-foot Eyesores. By stealing the Colossal Donut from an roadside advertisement, Homer conjured an advertising monster, which only continued to exist because he wouldn’t stop staring at it.
If we would only stop paying attention to Sarah Palin, she would disappear.
There is a mistaken notion among comedians that by making fun of Sarah Palin’s foolishness, her lack of experience, intelligence, tact, or command of English, we are reducing her influence over politics. The opposite is true. In 2005 the New York Times published a detailed look at the economics of Paris Hilton. At the height of the celebrity appearance bubble, Paris could command $150–200,000 for attending a party; she had leveraged overexposure into cold cash. A similar thing has happened with the political capital of Sarah Palin. We think we are exposing her lack of integrity. But the whole time, she’s been converting the elites’ criticism into tangible electoral influence.
Let’s take a look at this week’s numbers:
Bill Maher on Jay Leno Monday night:
1. “There is a thing in America called the First Amendment, and if somebody ever read it to Sarah Palin, she would understand that you’re supposed to be allowed to worship whatever fairy tale you want to.”
2. “Sarah Palin is an evil dingbat who thinks God opens doors, she never killed anyone for eloping … because in her family everybody elopes.”
The Word on the Colbert Report Tuesday night:
3. On Sarah Palin’s Facebook page Mosque comments: “Yes, Ground Zero is a sacred site. How dare they build a house of worship there?”
4. “To win an unwinnable scenario, you need just one thing. (Sarah Palin endorsement?)”
Jimmy Kimmel, Wednesday:
5. “In Delaware, former Republican governor Mike Castle was defeated by Sarah Palin favorite Christine O’Donnell. Nobody knows what this woman does for a living, if anything. All we do know is that she’s gone on the record to oppose masturbation, for real… I have a feeling Christine O’Donnell opposes masturbation the same way Bristol Palin opposes pre-marital sex.”
6. On Christine O’Donnell’s reply to accusations with the term “unfactual”: “Watch this, because I think this explains why Sarah Palin likes her so much.”
Craig Ferguson, Wednesday:
7. “The Democrats are already attacking O’Donnell. They’re calling her Sarah Palin of the east. I’m like, ‘Really? She’s a loud, emotionally unstable woman from Delaware? That’s not Sarah Palin, that’s Joe Biden.’”
The Daily Show, Wednesday:
8. Segment title: Beyond the Palin
9. Jon Stewart, referring to O’Donnell: “The Palin is strong in this one. My God. Just give her bangs and a pair of rim glasses and she’d be a dead-ringer for…Oh my God!”
That gives us a Colossal Donut Index of 9. This was a week when David Letterman was on vacation, and also a relatively dormant period for Palin. Comedians didn’t even cover Sarah Palin’s only major public appearance, a Fox News–fabricated skirmish with Karl Rove over Christine O’Donnell’s electability, something we were surely meant to follow breathlessly as some urgent proxy battle for GOP spokesperson dominance.
It’s true that just a sum of mentions feels inexact. Counting the number of appearances means grouping, say, a single joke about Sarah Palin on Weekend Update in the same category as an entire Tina Fey-impression, or some punchline-challenged Jay Leno “observation” in the same category as a lengthy takedown by Jon Stewart. But this is democracy, and democracy’s messy. Or maybe it’s not democracy, it’s statistics. It’s statistics that are messy.
When Masturbation’s Lost Its Fun
Masturbation was hands down the comedy story of the week, which is a not unpredictable response to news of Delaware Republican Senate primary winner Christine O’Donnell’s anti-masturbation crusade MTV past. To be fair, the topic has a bit of a home field advantage for comedians. That’s not meant negatively. Masturbation is one of the most revered topics world of comedy.
Kimmel (Wednesday) and Ferguson (Thursday) both made jokes about the government prying their penises from their cold dead hands. Even though it’s turning out the masturbation claim is the least crazy thing O’Donnell’s said, what’s the harm in letting these comedians have a little fun with themselves? It’s been a rough year. They’ve earned this indulgence.
At Delaware Online, Ryan Cormier has already done an in-depth recap of the late night responses to the attention Christine O’Donnell has brought to our first state. It’s worth checking out — it’s a long post.
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
The Daily Show was the only outlet to express skepticism on whether it is wise for Democrats to throw their hopes behind mobilizing the pro-masturbation vote.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Tea Party Primaries – Beyond the Palin|
The Jon Stewart Decade
At this stage any week that the cover of a major magazine claims this as the ‘Jon Stewart Decade’ is a timely one. New York magazine’s profile begins with Connecticut Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon kicking someone in the nuts. Literally, that is how it begins:
“It’s hard to top a kick in the nuts. Especially when the kicker is Linda McMahon, the Connecticut Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.”
McMahon and O’Donnell are both surprising products of this moment in time, the most likely mutants of the Republican Party’s decay. They represent different extremes on the surface, but both spring from the same underlying American urge. As author Chris Smith argues, the Daily Show’s earnest pursuit of the truth in the comedy behind these figures is one reason it deserves to be taken seriously. Stewart’s announcement last night of the Rally to Restore Sanity will surely gain the show even more publicity. The event might be comic, or the event might be serious, but it’s as legitimate as that previous rally on the mall organized by a TV entertainer.
Also this week, fans of the Colbert Report on Reddit raised $140,000 for charity in the name of the show, a newsworthy demonstration of the Colbert Report’s own power. But power must be seen in perspective. On Thursday alone, Christine O’Donnell raised $1 million for her campaign. That, as Craig Ferguson noted Thursday night, is making money “hand over fist.”
Stephen Hoban is a writer living in New York.