Idol Chatter

“One anchor, five correspondents, zero credibility.” Now that’s a tagline that speaks to me.

“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” celebrated its 10th anniversary this week. What? You’ve never watched “The Daily Show?” You don’t know what you’re missing. Being the “One News Organization with No Credibility to Lose” has worked well for this fake news show, which takes political players, Hollywood actors, major news stories as well as funny minor ones and gives it that special “Daily Show” satirical touch.

“The Daily Show” has slogged on for 10 years with the very funny Jon Stewart at its helm, and a look at this week’s guests explains its rooted popularity with those of us tired of CNN and Fox News’s spin: Attorney General John Ashcroft, comedian and author Amy Sedaris, and actor Kirsten Dunst all sat in the show’s “hot seat” this week.

Recent episodes also saw Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf subject himself to Stewart’s spot-on, hilarious and squirmingly uncomfortable questions. No one and no story–with the war in Iraq and any aspect of George W. Bush’s presidency as favorite fodder–is spared on this show. Politics, religion, Middle America, terrorism, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Hollywood starlets all get deftly skewered. If you can’t laugh at this, then you don’t have a healthy sense of humor.

Take Wednesday night’s bit, when new correspondent Rob Riggle (who quickly needs to get out of his Steve Carell mode and find his own groove) traveled to Arcata, California, to interview Tom Kubbany, a regular ole American who happenes to share the middle name of Hassan with the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s second son. Kubbany discovered he was tagged as being the “son of Saddam” on his credit report when he his home loan application was rejected.

But how did “son of Saddam Hussein” get on Kubbany’s credit report? Riggle turned to Shirin Sinnar, a member of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (and a friend of mine), who told him that credit bureaus are getting names from the U.S. Treasury Watch list, names of people who are in no way terrorists.

Only “The Daily Show” could take an obscure story like this and run with it. Why should you care about Kubbany? Because it’s a funny and ridiculous story that speaks volumes about a serious subject like national security. It’s vintage “Daily Show.”

This show is a total joke, and yet it isn’t. Ten years and numerous Peabody Awards and Emmy wins later, it’s the show that keeps remind us that life’s better when we laugh at ourselves.

What are the odds that Matteo the talking diary, a pen named Quill Simona, and two doves called Piccolo and Fiona will become beloved animated characters just like Bambi, Pinocchio, or Winnie the Pooh?

The producers of “John Paul II, The Friend of Humanity” are hoping so. The new Vatican-approved film, revealed at a press conference this week, shows “the human side of John Paul,” according to J.L. Lopez-Guardia, a Spanish animation artist who worked on the film. The producers and the Vatican are hoping that the film becomes a big hit this Christmas season.

The movie, which will be released on DVD, was made in eight languages. It starts on the night that the Pope died and then goes back to his birth in 1920, through his days in communist Poland and continuing through his 27 years in the papacy. After 30 minutes of animation, the second half shows film clips of his papacy while a narrator relates his most famous sayings and quotes.

In the wake of the recent controversy with the current Pope Benedict XVI, who in a speech quoted a Byzantine emperor’s statement that Islam is “evil and inhuman,” perhaps this movie will bring some positive attention to the Vatican. I don’t know how hot the Christmas market is for religious-themed animated films. But I do know that Pope John Paul was beloved by millions around the world, people who probably will welcome a gentle look at his life and the way he beautifully shaped the world at large.

Video of last night’s appearance on “The Colbert Report” of David Kuo, Beliefnet’s Washington editor and author of the new book “Tempting Faith“:

The poor Anti-Defamation League. The champions of tolerance–sworn especially to fight anti-Semitism–have been reduced by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen to fretting in a press release that the cute, totally ironic anti-Semitic digs in Cohen’s new movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” might be “too sophisticated for the average moviegoer.”

In the movie, Cohen plays Borat, a Kazakhstani ignoramus on a documentary tour of the United States. The setup lets Borat to take satirical pokes at American life, while also lampooning the benightedness of what might be termed either New Europe or Old Middle Asia. In Borat’s Kazakhstan, women are property, horses have the vote, and every bit of hard luck is blamed on a Jewish conspiracy. In one publicity gag for the movie, Borat suggested the Kazakhstan government “sue the Jew” who erected a website in the .kz domain advertising the movie. The Jew in question is Cohen himself.

Funny, right? If you have misgivings, leave them at the door. The twisty power of irony is that it turns its critics into humorless, irrelevant drudges the moment they take the ironist to task. The Kazakhstani government, who took down the website, looked ridiculous stating, for the record, that rape is not condoned within its borders. Trying to avoid that trap, the ADL is choosing to, in the words of the blogger Wonkette, “teach comedy to Americans.” Those who see the film, says the ADL, need to understand that it aims to “unmask the absurd and irrational side of anti-Semitism and other phobias born of ignorance and fear.”

Or maybe the ADL is indulging in a little irony of its own. The average American moviegoer, of course, is a teenager, who already gets that bigotry is born of ignorance and fear–tolerance has been drummed into our teens since they were preschoolers–but teens will also get immediately the brute power of brandishing the word “Jew,” and how Cohen plays it for laughs. The average moviegoer, in other words, is plenty sophisticated enough to mimic Cohen’s multilayered humor. Fans of the Borat movie will likely be unmasking the irrational side of anti-Semitism for the rest of their lives.