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Is the New Yorker as funny as Stephen Colbert?

July 15, 2008 |  8:48 am

If you have to explain a joke, it’s usually a pretty good sign that it’s a dud. But when it comes to satirizing the inanities of national politics, maybe a little elaboration is in order.

In that spirit, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, spelled out to CNN whLate-night Comedy Central comedian Stephen Colbertat the cover of his magazine’s latest issue was all about. In case your New Yorker still is in the hands of the U.S. Postal Service, that’s the one with Barack Obama in Muslim garb fist-bumping his gun-toting wife Michelle.

"The idea is to attack lies and misconceptions and distortions about the Obamas, and their background and their politics. We've heard all of this nonsense about how they're supposedly insufficiently patriotic, or soft on terrorism," Remnick told CNN. 

"That somehow the fist bump is something that it's not. And we try to put all of these images in one cover, and to satirize and shine a really harsh light on something that could be incredibly damaging."

As CNN points out on its political ticker, the cover has been criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike. On Sunday evening Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton called it "tasteless and offensive," and John McCain labeled it "totally inappropriate."

Even Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks, now running for L.A. County supervisor and an Obama backer, got in on the action, as the Times’ James Rainey noted in this morning’s On the Media column.

But Remnick still thinks the intelligence of the American people is being underestimated.  “Yes, there will be some people who will misunderstand it, not get it at first," he said on CNN. "But here we are on television, discussing something that's been a kind of subterranean theme in American politics, which is disgusting — these lies about Barack Obama, about Michelle Obama. And so in fact we're not even satirizing the Obamas, we're satirizing these rumors, the lies that have fed into the politics of fear."

Remnick also put his magazine’s satire in the same category with TV funnymen Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. "If there's no possibility for satire, if you always have to look for the joke that every — absolutely everyone will get, you won't have Jon Stewart, you won't have Stephen Colbert," he said. "Stephen Colbert goes on and mocks right-wing commentary by pretending to be a right-wing commentary. In a way this is Colbert in print."

--Stuart Silverstein

Photo credit: Comedy Central