Living perpetually in Jon Stewart’s shadow, Stephen Colbert now throws his hat into a ring already occupied by America the Book with his own, an impressive looking tome bafflingly titled I Am America (And So Can You!).
I should first qualify my own thoughts by saying that while I am a fan of The Daily Show, I’ve never really gotten into The Colbert Report. Stephen makes a good right-wing blowhard, but the schtick gets tired when it’s repeated for 30 minutes, Monday through Thursday, without fail. There’s only so far you can take it.
Now, while America the Book spoofed a social sciences textbook, and did a truly excellent job, I Am America (And So Can You!) struggles to find its genre. It’s part satirical autobiography (when it remembers) and part random punditry. What I think was most off-putting was how inconsistent Colbert’s character seems. Maybe I’ve just never noticed it on his show, but playing a conservative evangelical Republican who happens to be an arrogant Catholic1. As well, the literary wink-wink-nudge-nudge of Colbert’s satire is sometimes so overt that one wonders what the point of the persona is. And the direction of the humor is more or less always the same: The Daily Show, and similarly America the Book were Equal Opportunity lampooners, taking aim at government folly on both sides of the aisle. But Colbert, in show and book, flogs this “I Am Bill O’Reilly” horse long after it’s dead. The humor doesn’t last.
That all being said, there are good things to say about the book. It has some funny parts: the entire book is annotated in a style reminiscent of the on-screen text in his “The Word” segment, and the witty repartee between the text proper and more mischievous annotator is pretty consistently funny. Also, the production qualities on this book are extraordinarily high. Not as high as its cousin, necessarily, but high nonetheless.
I feel bad thrashing Colbert’s book, because I know he’s a talented satirist. But I can’t help but feel as though this book was reaching farther than the schtick could successfully go. By the time the book finished up with a transcript of Colbert’s controversial 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner act, I just wanted the book to be over with. That doesn’t speak very well of the book’s qualities.
- I realize you can more or less model this on Bill Donohue, but it’s still strange: you would think that Colbert could make his invented persona a little more normalized[↩]