Not a bad analogy even though in some ways they’re polar opposites, and not just on policy. Beck became a star on Fox in the tea-party era because of his febrile sincerity. Crying jags, chalkboard lessons on the ever-widening plot to destroy America — the man wore his fear on his sleeve. Colbert became a star on Comedy Central because of his arch insincerity. He stayed in character as an O’Reilly-type blowhard to satirize Fox for nine years. Essentially, he wore Beck’s fear as a propeller beanie.
There’s something to the idea, though, that late-night liberal comedians are playing a role for “the Resistance” not unlike the role conservative media played for the right in 2009, even if neither side will like that comparison for its own reasons. Beck sees hateful hyperpartisan caricatures of the other side as the common thread but there’s also the manic energy that he and Colbert shared in channeling the resentments of their respective audiences. He makes a point of warning Colbert here that Jimmy Fallon is nipping at his heels, which is true but misleading: Colbert only finally caught up to Fallon in the ratings and passed him this year, after Trump took office and he started to revert to the sneering-leftist sensibility he had at Comedy Central. That was a hit with Trump-hating liberals; Fallon still leads in the 18-49 demo but Colbert has made a race of it overall. He’s regained a cultural currency that he hasn’t had since the Bush years (and maybe didn’t have even then) and his excitement about it radiates from his show. The neon glee with which he lit into Trump during that crass bit from a few days ago is night-and-day different in tone from Beck’s 2009-era doomsaying but the sheer animation of the performance was familiar. Both guys were jonesing palpably on knowing they were speaking the sort of truth their fans wanted spoken to the reigning power. They were carried along by the crowd until, in different ways, they went too far.
The key bit here starts at 24:15 and ends at 33:20.
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