On Stewart, Colbert: It Takes A Village To Make A Joke

Watch me. I am sitting here all by myself turning this out. It may be good. It may be lousy. But it is all mine. Look around. Do you see a room-full of  (high-salaried) gag writers that I can lean on if I go empty? I snap my fingers and someone says, “Try this.” No, it’s all up to me to find the right words, to earn the praise, deserve the blame, and that’s how it is for most writers who are for real.

No knock on Stephen Colbert, necessarily, or on Jon Stewart, whom we’ll get to in a moment -- and this is not about their politics. Never mind that. It’s about the business of being funny, and I do mean business. So I checked in on this evening’s “60 Minutes” (Sunday, April 30) on CBS and caught the segment on Stephen Colbert who spoofs the news on Comedy Central, as of course does Stewart, who uses scoffing as his art.

I found Colbert likeable, yes, but was astonished to learn that for a half hour show (say 20 minutes counting commercials) it takes a staff of 80 writers, producers and what-not to get the wise-cracks presentable before an audience, and a national public, that thinks it’s getting Colbert and Colbert alone.

I should not have been surprised. Before that, going back to last year, or maybe the year before, Jon Stewart won some big award and the stage wasn’t big enough to contain all the members of his team, the staff that turns him out night by night. I thought THAT – now that is funny.

They kept trooping up on stage, 10, 20, 30, until I stopped counting, but kept thinking – is this fair?

Does Jon Stewart ever come up with something funny all by himself? Likewise Stephen Colbert.

Maybe I’m just jealous. Yes, that’s probably it, jealous that I’ve got to do this all by myself; can’t start a column or a novel and turn to my staff and say:

 “Okay, guys, I started it, you finish it up.”

My colleague over at Amazon.com (and a terrific writer – and all by herself) Lauren Baratz-Longsted, reports that 80 percent of all NON-FICTION books atop the New York Times” bestseller lists are written by ghosts, yes, ghostwritten. (She got that stat from a piece in the New York Times Magazine.)

Of both Clintons, Bill and Hillary -- each of whom received up to $10 million dollars for their “books” – are we to believe the writing is theirs and theirs alone?


Yes, it takes a village.

If you argue, well, Stewart and Colbert are not writers but entertainers, I say, there is no difference.

Writers are entertainers, entertainers are writers. We traffic in words, some for the page, some for the stage. Same thing.

Right this minute I am stuck for a line. Don’t know how to end this piece. I like where this is going but need a snappy finish.

But the room is empty. There’s nobody around. See what I mean?