Colbert reacts to #Trumptape
Over the weekend, the Washington Post released a 2005 video of presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) making NSFW comments about women while filming for a segment on the television show, Entertainment Tonight. After the release, several high-profile Republican officials, spokespeople and donors condemned, and in some cases, rescinded support for Trump. At the same time, the internet went predictably berserk.
A slew of newscasts, blogs, tweets and cable segments cropped up almost instantaneously, covering the issue from every angle. One video, by television giant Stephen Colbert, stuck with me.
The video popped up on my Twitter feed, and at just under two-and-a-half minutes it was short enough to pause and watch. While we’re used to seeing Colbert looking polished in a suit and tie on a multi-million dollar set, this clip has about the same production value as an iPhone video I took of my nephew catching a fish last week. In fact, the wide angle and unstable nature of the clip make it seem likely the video was, indeed, shot with an iPhone. In a room that looks like a small home-library, Colbert reclines casually in an overstuffed chair – an empty glass and TV remote on the table next to him with a MacBook propped on his lap.
Colbert is captured at a slightly down-facing angle. He is positioned directly in the middle of the frame, which extends to his knees, and well beyond the top of his head and sides of his chair. The lighting is not poor, but there is some glare on Colbert’s face from what seems to be an overhead light. In terms of post-production, it is clear some editing has been done, but the cuts are rough and obvious. Frankly, nothing about this video is technically artful, yet it is quite effective.
Colbert begins by discussing plans for his upcoming week on the Late Show – which is something he could have done in writing on his website. After a slow start, he cuts to the chase, explaining that he filmed that night’s show the day before, and so it won’t address the new Trump scandal. To bridge the gap, he plans to watch the Trump tape right there, in front of the viewer. Colbert pops on some headphones that have been dangling around his neck, and with some technical difficulties begins watching the video on his computer – presumably for the first time.
This whole setup and video would be awkward and unnecessary if it weren’t for the next series of clips, capturing a quick series of Colbert’s hilarious reactions to the controversial video. Twisting his face into pretzels, Colbert precisely mimics everything I, myself, felt while watching the leaked footage. He includes a few snappy one-liners, for example, “All the tic tacs in the world will not freshen his breath after this,” but mostly the fun is in watching his body language and expressions. For this reason, despite the poor production quality and slow start, video was the perfect medium. Nothing else could have captured such an authentic reaction.
There’s also something quaint about the video. It gives a sort of inside look at Colbert, who seems to be at his home. This makes Colbert’s reactions seem all the more authentic and hilarious. The no-frills format also allowed Colbert to expedite the time it took for his video to reach fans. Had he waited for a full production shoot, Colbert would have missed the initial itnernet frenzy that followed the scandal. By uploading the video to Twitter and YouTube, Colbert easily joined the discission, just as the wave of interest was breaking.
This is a lesson in the medium being the message. For regular segments, strong production values help Colbert stand out as a polished, profession entertainer. On the other hand, allowing himself to be part of such a “regular Joe” video clip and posting that clip straight to social media allowed Colbert to seem authentic, and to take immediate action on a hot issue. Without much effort, Colbert made his usually hilarious mark on one of the biggest scandals of the year. So far, it’s got over 900.000 views.