Let it never be said that Keith Olbermann doesn’t have a sense of humor. He has one, and it’s terrible. This week – which included three “funny” guests, an election and an interview with America’s favorite Senate candidate, Alvin Greene, is a good chance to examine the mystery of what makes an angry man laugh.
FRIDAY, JUNE 4: Just because Keith Olbermann has a few light stories on the docket doesn’t mean he doesn’t tackle serious news, too. And when he transitions between these stories, the effect can be magical. Witness this shift from an interview about water-boarding to a segment about … well, it’s hard to say. Brace yourself; it’s going to be a bumpy ride:
GUEST: “… All this does is gives al Qaeda another recruitment tool, and we lose that long-term war.”
OLBERMANN: Matthew Alexander, former interrogator for the U.S. military, author of “How To Break a Terrorist.” Great thanks again for your time. I hope you have a good weekend.
GUEST: Thanks, good to be here, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Six frightened poodles, a shorted-out car horn, a lonely garage in the middle of the night in the middle of winter.
MONDAY, JUNE 7: For some weeks now, I’ve been selecting an “out of context Keith Olbermann quote of the week.” It’s a simple concept: I just pull out a single line from a show that strikes me as silly, especially when separated from its context. This week, it was extremely hard to choose. You might think this would be the obvious selection:
“I had a dream the other night, and in the middle of it Glenn Beck wanders in from nowhere, into the dream, he’s painted his face with ketchup and he’s weeping uncontrollably.”
Pretty good, right? But that was before Olbermann conducted an absurdly juvenile interview with Village Voice writer Michael Musto, who he frequently has on to make naughty quips about fluffy stories – in this case, Rush Limbaugh’s weekend wedding. In a segment whose overall theme was Limbaugh’s lack of good taste, Olbermann tittered his way through banter about Elton John going to the bathroom in a punchbowl, Clarence Thomas’s possible participation in a lynching (yes, really), sex toys, “doggy caca” and murder suspect Joran Van Der Sloot.
What a great use of air time! To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Humor is tragedy plus time plus a lot of giggling about poop.”
TUESDAY, JUNE 8: Election night, which means a busy show! (There were two hours of “Countdown” tonight. Oh , joy.) But Keith is never too busy for a little scare-mongering. First he panicked over the possibility of “birther” Orly Taitz becoming the nominee for secretary of state in California. Mediaite pointed out that MSNBC was the only media outlet that gave Taitz even a snowball’s chance of winning. Taitz hadn’t been able to get press coverage before the network started slavering over her as the new face of Republicanism. Olbermann made her campaign the show’s No. 1 story — yes, on a major election night — and reported that “many Golden State Republican are worried she might actually win.”
Update: She didn’t. In fact, she got about 25 percent of the vote, a trouncing by anyone’s definition.
The election wasn’t the only terrifying spectre in the air on Tuesday, however. There was also this:
“Of the millions of words used in the first 50 days, one has been thrown around like it was a manhole cover — doomsday. Unfortunately, with new reports of oil seeping up through not the ruptured well, but through the ocean floor. It may be time that we have to pick up that manhole cover.”
I’ll be honest; I can’t make any real sense of that. It sounds like it’s about the oil spill? But one thing is clear: DOOMSDAY IS UPON US!
But wait! Just a few minutes later, our fearless host raised the stakes:
“The term ‘doomsday scenario’ is not far off. Our third story: What then is the next step worse than doomsday?”
Wait, I know this one: “Countdown” has been renewed for another 25 years.
Let’s not even joke about that. We should give the man a break, though. When a novelty primary candidate for state office is cause for a weeks-long, on-air freak-out, it creates a need for new, ever-escalating panic terminology to discuss things that are, you know, actually pretty bad.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 9: Tonight’s final guest was Lewis Black, who has a Comedy Central show to promote. “Lewis Black, spokesman for sanity, will join us in a moment,” Olbermann said, teasing the comedian’s appearance. “He’s actually sitting right there laughing.” Ugh. Don’t flatter yourself, Keith. There’s no way Lewis Black thinks you’re funny.
THURSDAY, JUNE 10: When I found out Olbermann was going to interview mysterious out-of-nowhere South Carolina Democratic Senate nominee Alvin Greene tonight, I experienced a strange sensation. It was something I’d never felt before. I felt confused and afraid and ashamed. I wanted to call my mom, or my doctor or a priest. It’s hard for me to admit this, but I … I was looking forward to the show.
Greene is such an object of bizarre, disjointed unpreparedness that any interview with him this week would be riveting. But when he finally got him on air, Olbermann’s questions included “What was your campaign like?” “Did you have a lot of meetings?” and “Do you have a Twitter account?” Greene stammered his was through with answers like “I had just a few meetings” and “There are false sites out there.”
It wasn’t exactly Frost-Nixon. More to the point, it wasn’t nearly as effective as Shepard Smith’s careful evisceration of Greene earlier that day on Fox.
But never mind all that — it was time to haul out another comedian! This time, it was guest Robert Klein, whose “jokes” included calling South Carolina “one of the poorest, fattest, stupidest, least-educated states in the union” and begging it to secede. Then he sang a long, lewd original song about President Obama.
As you can see, this week was a real embarrassment of riches. Put another way, it was an embarrassment.