There are people out there for whom the Democrats' battle to pick a candidate to take on President Donald Trump in 2020 will never be funny.
Those people are not on late-night television, which is probably going to prove a good thing. Yes, this is an important election, especially if you believe the norms of the republic are eroding quicker than Miami beachfront property.
But there's going to be a lot of debating and campaigning from a field larger than a high-school glee club and without the saving grace of spangly outfits. There will be gaffes, and there will be illogic, and we'll have to find a way to laugh now and again, if only to try to convince ourselves that things are sort of normal.
Also, those humor-averse people have never seen a presidential debate featuring Oprah-anointed self-help guru Marianne Williamson, who had her political coming-out party Thursday night and was mocked by Trevor Noah as a CBD oil proponent, by Stephen Colbert as the "crystals and bee pollen" candidate, and by Seth Meyers as someone who would work to repair U.S. relations with Narnia.
"Anyone curious what she means by 'harnessing love,'" Colbert said, referencing WIlliamson's plan for dealing with Trump, "do not Google 'love harness.'"
WIlliamson, Meyers said, "rose up out of a lake under a full moon to be at this debate."
And in that water birth, she was almost as strange to the political comedy crew as former Vice President Joe Biden was in his decision to stop abruptly in the middle of a rant defending his record, saying, "My time's up, sorry."
"Your time might be up," responded Noah.
"You know it's bad," said Meyers, "when you're cutting yourself off."
Wednesday and Thursday, those comedians did their shows live, actually late at night, to cover the Democratic horde in real time, which is something they've previously been doing for things like election nights and assorted milestones of the Trump presidency.
And Americans got a preview of what the next 10 months will be like, comedically speaking, as the Democrats try to winnow their field down to that one glee clubber who can actually sing and dance at the same time.
Or maybe the metaphor should be the debate society because, yeah, these sequential group Q-and-A things -- 10 candidates one night, 10 the next, four left out to wonder, as Meyers said, how they're trailing Marianne Williamson -- were sort of debate-like.
The stakes were high, Noah said. "With the election a mere 496 days away," the "Daily Show" host pointed out, candidates "could go from, 'Who is that?' to, 'Oh, yeah, that guy.'"
Wringing jokes out of a field of candidates who mostly agree with each other -- and who didn't snipe at each other as viciously as the bloated Republican field did four years ago -- wasn't the simplest thing.
But there was certainly material in the sheer number of them and relative anonymity of some.
Wednesday's crew, said Colbert, was three actual candidates "and seven people angling for MSNBC shows."
Former Maryland congressman John Delaney, Noah said, should say his name like a rapper every time he makes a point, just to try to stick in people's minds. Colbert said Delaney stood out from the crowd because, "'Unlike the others, I'm just doing this on a dare from my brother-in-law.'"
California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris was vying to be our first African-American female president, said Meyers, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg our first gay president, and businessman Andrew Yang, who went tie-less Thursday, "our first business-casual president."
Colbert had an idea for former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's response to the oft-asked question of what he would day on Day One in the White House: "'I'd probably congratulate whoever won,'" the CBS "Late Show" host imagined the one-time craft brewer saying.
The candidates flourishing some Spanish phrases proved irresistible.
Former Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke was the first to do so, Wednesday night. "He's either trying to lock up the Hispanic vote, or he's running for embarrassing dad at a Mexican restaurant," Colbert said.
When former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro began a sentence "I know what it's like," Colbert finished it for him: "'to actually speak Spanish.'"
The next night, Buttigieg flashed his Spanish right away. "Wow. I knew he spoke Norwegian," Colbert said. "But I had no idea he spoke Beto O'Rourke."
"By the way, guys," Colbert added, in a Wednesday aside, "there's so much Spanish on stage ICE is closing in. Get out of there!"
There were jokes about the advanced age of Biden and Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. When Biden referenced something his dad used to tell him, Colbert knew what it was: "'He used to say, 'Son, the Vikings are coming for all of us, and they will end this village.'"
After another candidate, California congressman Eric Swalwell, quoted a line from a Biden presidential bid 32 years ago, Meyers told him to back off: "If anyone's gonna take down Joe Biden with a Joe Biden quote, it's Joe Biden."
Williamson was the comics' for-fun punching bag, because she isn't expected to be in the race very long, and, objectively, those were some, let's say, ethereal answers she gave.
But the Biden jokes were more pointed because he began the week as the front-runner, to the degree that early polling means anything. And the comics' consensus was that Harris had owned Thursday night generally and Biden specifically, especially when she said his comments about having worked with segregationist senators were hurtful to her as an African American.
"That moment was so brutal on Joe Biden that for the first time I wanted to give him a massage," Noah said.
"As a former prosecutor," said Colbert, "Kamala Harris found everyone else on that stage guilty of being less interesting."
"Holy cow," he also said, "she might be president."
And that is where the more substantive role such shows play was underscored. Late-night comics at their best are pointing out who is getting their message across effectively and, conversely, who is failing the communications test.
Their noting that Harris had finally broken through the candidate clutter in a way she hadn't been able to previously, and showing why, might as well have had a "News Analysis" chyron on screen.
What may seem merely irreverent or insignificant -- fiddling in a burning capital -- can be as vital to this sluggish process as any talking-heads panel on CNN. And it's a lot more fun to watch.
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