Grayling on Colbert

April 30, 2011 • 4:26 am

This week Anthony Grayling made The Big Time; that is, he appeared on The Colbert Report touting his humanist bible.   As usual, the spotlight is on Colbert (his schtick of talking incessantly is getting a bit old), but, as they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Note that at 4:30 Anthony comes close to Sam Harris’s view that there are moral absolutes that are discernible from empirical observation.

At the end Grayling sums up the book’s theme: “Love well and be courageous.”  Sounds good, but what does it mean to love badly?

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44 thoughts on “Grayling on Colbert

    1. “Don’t turn away from facts (they can hit you hard).”

      But on the humanist side, I guess “be free” is a good (and parallel, if I think about it) sentiment.

      1. Well, he knows he is so he doesn’t need to say it. Plus, he rather likes Colbert. Being secure in oneself is a great time saver. Or, it looks to be anyway…

      2. I’m not sure he (Grayling) is. Colbert is whip smart, certainly faster and cleverer on the verbal side than almost anyone he’s ever had on. He’s doing schtick of course but his intelligence shows through so I wouldn’t discount him.

        Grayling is no slouch himself I’m sure. It’s hard to tell what Colbert’s actual thoughts on religion and morality are, and it’s entirely possible that he holds indefensible views. I just don’t want to reduce discussions (not that this was a serious one) to ‘who’s got a higher I.Q.’.

  1. Cannot see the video alas.
    His conclusion sounds like Marcus Aurelius –
    “Accept the things to which fate binds you, & love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

  2. Colbert was pretty hilarious at points, but I do wish he would let his guests speak a bit more. Can’t we have Colbert’s style of humor and enough time for the guests to complete a few thougts?

    1. It depends on what your comparison is. I think that he does a very good job of staying on topic and asking questions which let his guests explain themselves while still trying to run a comedy show. When you compare his schtick with Jon Stewart I think Colbert is the hands-down winner – Stewart rambles, talks about breakfast/clothes/kids/weather, whines about Americans, does his “oh, I’m so shocked” dance and can easily blow 10 minutes without ever getting to the book or show the guest was there to discuss.

      Of course there’s no doubt that a 60 minutes or a Point Of Inquiry interview would have been far better but they have a lot more time and a very different audience.

      Colbert does comedy and he still has on more and better guests than many of the 30 minute news shows so I think we should cut him a break.

  3. Upon this second viewing of the interview, Colbert seems not to be interrupting as much as I thought when I first saw it. He does have a long spiel in the middle, but he spends that pointing out the absurdity of the real bible while sounding like he is defending it. That’s his schtick. “I don’t see anything here worth killing anybody over.” That’s why I watch him (well, DVR him) every night.

    Grayling got his points across pretty well. He is just too polite to interrupt, which is sometimes necessary. I get a lot of my book recommendations from Stewart/Colbert. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Sarah Vowell, and Susan Jacoby, to name a few.

  4. You’ve got to give it up for Colbert. He has to stay in character as that is what got him there and what keeps him there. The important thing is that he brings the good guys in, and if you’re paying attention, tries to set them up to make the important points. The key is to recognize and take advantage of his set ups. If you ask me, he does our shared causes a lot of good.

    1. As long as he has fun he is no “victim of his own success”, yes.

      I would assume that he can find many ways to retire his act, if and when he has to turn his mind to it.

      It took him to the space station (the “COLBERT” training mill).

  5. Heh.

    Anthony wasn’t very excited about having to fly to New York and back so soon after returning from his US trip, so I tried to convince him that it was worth it because of the immense clout of Colbert, and that it might even be fun. I also admitted though that Stewart would have been more fun, and the actual show confirmed that. I too think there was a good deal too much Colbert.

    I like the principle of Colbert, but I get bored by the actual show in about ten seconds.

    Really, it’s quite silly – quite a waste. Anthony’s a very interesting lively energetic talker, and Stewart would have given him scope. Colbert just didn’t.

    Jerry, when they come for you, insist on doing the Daily Show, not Colbert.

    1. Funny, I react in the exactly opposite way. Stewart can be funny and sometimes sharper since he hasn’t such a constrained format. But he bores me at times, too needy/begging of the audience as I remember it.

      [Which btw is a US trait. Maybe that is why I find Colbert more relaxed.]

      And I do think Colbert are supportive of his guests, here making the point of the contrasting “the bad book”. I can’t remember how Stewart is on that score.

    2. I can’t remember the last time Steward gave a good interview, can you?

      I think he’s often the interview kiss of death, maybe 20% of his guests ever get a chance to discuss their work in any depth. Just this week he had an Egyptian blogger to talk about the uprising and all Stewart wanted to talk about was her schooling and whether Egyptians hated Americans. And if you think Colbert talks too much, pay attention to how much time Stewart actually spends – those ums, ahhs, weeelllls and character gags eat up a lot more time than you might think.

      1. Yeh maybe. I don’t watch Stewart all that often either, especially now that the repeats are on at 7 instead of 8.

        I did see the interview with Gigi Ibrahim, and I had a feeling he was cutting in quickly at times when she was on the edge of drying.

  6. I just loved Grayling’s amused demeanor throughout the segment that played well against Colbert’s schtick; the man has a great sense of humor,priceless.

  7. The whole premise of the show is that it’s Bill o’Reilly and ilk send up. If you book on to a show know what you are booking on to. I thought Grayling’s amused look was amusement but if it was something else he can eff off. Either he wants to shill his book or he doesn’t. Same with every other guest. I have no sympathy for those who come unprepared.

    1. Jeez, take it easy. It was amusement. I told him what Colbert’s schtick is and I’m sure so did 99 other people at least, and besides, Colbert tells his guests that himself, of course – I believe his way of putting it is “You do realize my character is an idiot, right?”

      It’s not an easy gig. You don’t want to try to join in on the joke, because you’ll look like a fool, but it’s not obvious how straight you should play it.

  8. What does it mean to love badly? I’ll let my high school girlfriend answer that one. ;^)

    As for Colbert, I like him more when I’m familiar with the guest. If I don’t know the guest before the interview I am not likely to know any more after seeing it. If I know the guest’s work I still am not likely to learn much from a Colbert interview, but I usually get a laugh out of it.

  9. I think it’s too much to expect a good interview from Colbert or Stewart….that’s not what they do. The interviewees exist solely as raw material for their humor. The best that an author can hope for is to get a few more book sales out of the appearance. Having it on their resume can probably help them get on more substantive shows, if that’s what they want.

  10. There’s an amusing irony here. Anthony did an interview with Fox News about ten days before the Colbert one. He found out he was doing it while I was having tea with him, and I squawked in alarm, and warned him of the bullying ways of Fox News. But in fact…the Fox interview was a gem – more like Kitten News. The interviewer gave him all the time he wanted to answer questions, didn’t interrupt once, and did no sneering or provoking.

  11. Grayling’s mistake is to wait patiently. Anyone going on Colbert needs to speak up and not be afraid to speak over. I doubt Colbert would mind, as he wants it to be interesting.

  12. A nice interview, but I did notice something that surprised me a bit. If I recall correctly, at least 3 or 4 times Grayling reassured Colbert in soothing tones that there was nothing against religion in his book, it wasn’t about God or not God, it wasn’t anti-religion, it wasn’t meant to diss or replace the Bible, etc. That’s not a problem as such, of course, the book is secular wisdom, not a direct argument on theism/atheism. And Grayling was rebutting Colbert’s over-the-top paranoia with calm reason. But it made a particular impression.

    Had I been unfamiliar with Grayling and his stated position on gnu atheism, I would have assumed that he was firmly in the camp of those who did not want to offend the religious, argue against religion, or upset any apple carts: can’t we all just get along and point to shared values? Iow, an anti-gnu. I was rather expecting a bit more … I don’t know … fire?

    1. Just because he didn’t have time for nuance, I think. In other venues he’s been making it clear that he’s critical of religion at the same time he says that’s not what this book is about.

      He made it clear in the Fox interview for example.

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