Did you watch Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner? I love Colbert, but it was a little scary watching him do his "Colbert Report" character outside of his brilliantly comical studio set that frames him as a ridiculous right-wing blowhard. We love the humor in context, but when the targets of the humor are there in the room with him, we can't dissolve into hilarity. We're completely distracted by thinking about how the live audience is reacting and whether Steve the actor has the -- well, as Stephen Colbert would say -- balls to stay in character, to stay pompous and righteous when he knows he's sticking it to the people Steve the comedian would normally depend upon to buoy him up with laughter.
Colbert could have tried to go on as a decent guy being a nice guest and supplying some perfectly pitched stand-up humor, the way Drew Carey has done in the past. But Colbert really isn't a stand-up comedian, and his humor is always set inside a character who is not him. He's an actor, and how hard, how monumentally awkward, it must have been to stay inside his character with such intimidating people around him. Wouldn't the sheer instinct for self-protection make him want to twinkle and say I kid but I love?
Wasn't it awful to perform without laughs? Maybe he should have filed the edges off a couple of jokes, but, basically, he did what he had to do to maintain his credibility with his real audience, those who watch "The Colbert Report." And we'll remember the horrible laughlessness of that night and marvel at the steely nerve of Stephen Colbert.