Perhaps no one hated the announcement that Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman on CBS’ The Late Show more than Rush Limbaugh, who has been the object of so much satire and scorn from Colbert over the years. Limbaugh declared on his show today, “CBS has just declared war on the Heartland of America. No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservatives.”
I wish that was true. During all of the controversy over #CancelColbert, little attention was paid to the fact that Colbert’s character was never nearly as racist, sexist, and homophobic as he should have been to provide a realistic depiction of a conservative talk show host. Colbert was just too nice of a guy to be a consistent representative of a hate-filled, bigoted movement.
With his new show, Colbert will no longer utilize a Limbaugh-esque pompous fool character. But let’s hope he continues to be exactly what Limbaugh fears: an honest critic of the idiocy of today’s conservative movement. Sadly, too many network talk show hosts are afraid of alienating the right-wing extremists by being opinionated. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have been incredibly successful precisely because they are fearless in confronting right-wing lies. If he wants to continue that success, Colbert needs to break out of the mold of apolitical talk show hosts who think that “the Heartland of America” is a bunch of mindless Dittoheads.
Limbaugh has always hated Colbert. In 2010, he called Colbert and Jon Stewart “stupid-and-smug-about-it, overpaid, metrosexual comedians.” Limbaugh has complained, “Colbert's shtick is to make Republicans look like idiots… to make us look like a bunch of Looney Tunes…”
Today, Limbaugh declared, “What this hire means is a redefinition of what is ‘funny’ and a redefinition of what is comedy.” As a self-styled comedian, Limbaugh is upset by the changing nature of humor. To Limbaugh, what’s funny is adopting a gay lisp to mock liberal men, it’s calling women “sluts” and “prostitutes,” it’s calling our first black president a “Halfrican-American” and playing satirical songs about “negroes.” That’s what is hilarious in a conservative world shaped by Limbaugh’s bigotry.
But it’s not Limbaugh’s world anymore. His sense of humor is dying out. Only a few years ago, Colbert would never have been considered for this job. Network heads would have said he was too liberal, too political, too sharp-edged in his satire. Now, as a younger generation rejects the old conservative humor of a Limbaugh, the nature of what’s funny is changing. CBS isn’t declaring war on conservatives by hiring Colbert. CBS is following a new generation of Americans who think making fun of bigots is funnier than being a bigot like Rush Limbaugh.
Crossposted at LimbaughBook.