What the fuck was Michael Brown thinking when he decided to go on The Colbert Report on March 28?
Survey says: He wasn't thinking. Matter of fact, the ex-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief is getting pretty famous for not thinking, an oversight reflected in everything from his infamous musings about his fashion choices in e-mails written during Hurricane Katrina, to deciding to open a disaster-consulting firm in Colorado in the hurricane's wake. Time and again, Brown has proven that his head is in the clouds. Or up his ass.
Brownie's latest gaffe? Deciding to take a call from What's So Funny.
The other night, I happened to catch a rerun of Brown on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. I'd seen the show a few times before; in it, Daily Show veteran Stephen Colbert takes on a Bill O'Reilly, obnoxious-pundit persona and proceeds to mercilessly lampoon guests of the political persuasion. Sometimes the guests stammer at Colbert's antics, sometimes they stubbornly ignore him and voice their views -- but they always come off looking shaky and scathed. So when Colbert announced that the guest was going to be Brownie in the flesh, I was shocked. Why would a man who has been so publicly drilled ever since Katrina, a man who has been so mercilessly gutted by humorous late-night talk-show hosts and Jay Leno alike, subject himself to a public thrashing at the hands of Colbert?
"That's a good question," Brown says when I call, helpfully adding that he hasn't picked up a copy of the WestWorld in quite some time. "They wanted me to come on the show, and they sent me several DVDs, and I saw that people were able to say something substantive, despite what Stephen was doing. Stephen said he also wanted to apologize for all the crap I've been taking, to give me the chance to counter that on air."
When I ask Brown how he thinks he did on the show, he up and flips the script and asks me how I think he did.
"Uh, all right," I stammer.
Truth be told, I think it was probably the most embarrassing interview I have ever seen in my life.
I have a friend who says awkward, uncomfortable people make him feel "itchy," and in that respect, watching Brownie was the equivalent of chicken pox. It was the type of television you can't stand to watch yet can't take your eyes off of. Breaking Bonaduce-type shit. You flip back and forth to other channels for momentary relief, but you're back to the show that makes you itchy in seconds, unable to help yourself.
Unless you're a legitimate humor-meister like Funny, the only way to survive a Colbert interview is to ignore him altogether. He's going to do his thing and get his laughs, and you just have to sit there and let it happen, voicing your opinion whenever you can. According to Brown, Colbert even told him before the show that the thing to remember is that he essentially plays an idiot. If you keep that in mind, you'll make it out alive.
Brownie didn't. But so far, it doesn't look like he knows he's dead.
"It was fun," he reports. "I hope I had a good balance; it's so easy to get sucked right into his role of being a complete dufus that you have to stay on your toes. It's the kind of good media training that a lot of people get: 'I don't care what you ask, here's the answer.'"
You might want to head back to media boot camp, Brownie, because you came off like you majored in dufus. To wit:
Colbert: You e-mailed back [during the hurricane] and said you wished you were home having a margarita and walking your dog, correct?
Colbert: What kind of margarita are we talking about here? We talking a frozen margarita? Salt around the rim?
Brown: Probably salt...uh, more sweet than sour. I don't like the sweetness too much. On the rocks.
Brownie can't say he was taken out of context. He can't say, "Look, that wasn't what I meant. I was merely relating how taxing it is trying to provide relief during a mammoth hurricane, and was voicing the fact that I, like any normal human in that situation, was definitely going to need some relaxation soon." No, sir. Instead, he just took a cue from the funny-boy host and attempted to crack wise.
Mentioning the margarita discourse, I ask Brown if he regrets any answers.
"I wish I had said that I would drink a margarita at the Rio Grande in either Boulder or Denver," he says.
This leaves the normally verbose What's So Funny speechless. Is Brownie trying to drop a plug for a local reporter, or is he really that obtuse?
For their part, the peeps at The Colbert Report say they're pleased with Brown's performance.
"I admire his willingness to defend his reputation," says Emily Lazar, the program's talent booker. "Some people are so cautious and self-conscious that they're not willing to engage in that arena. Whether he did a good job or not, some people hide under their bed and never come out. I admire his willingness to stand up for the reputation that he thought he deserved."
And Brownie says his props are way up in that key 18-to-34-year-old group. "It's been amazing," he tells Funny. "It seems that demographic watches the show an awful lot. I have had a lot of people approach me about it."
And not just youngsters, either.
"I just met with former senator Bob Kerrey," he explains, "and he told me that I had more guts than anyone he knew because I went on that show."
That's one way of looking at it.
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To his credit, Brownie -- who says the interview was the toughest he's ever done, never mind testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee -- realized what an effective means The Colbert Report could be in helping clear his name. And in some respects, he feels his efforts paid off.
"You could tell from the audience right away," he says. "A few people were giving me high fives. By the end of the show, I walked off the stage and I felt that the audience had a better impression of me. You have to have guts to do the show. It shows that you're a human being. That even in the midst of a tragedy where people have died, in the midst of dealing with serious policy issues, at the end of the day it's important to have a sense of humor."
And a clue.