Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bart Ehrman on the Colbert Report

You can see Bart Ehrman's appearance on The Colbert Report (with thanks to Jim West on Xtalk for the heads-up) on-line:

Comedy Central: The Colbert Report

As I commented on Xtalk, it doesn't make easy watching. I'd say Colbert's tactics back-fired rather. If he is attempting to make fun of fundamentalist Christians, it certainly doesn't work. If he is attempting to make fun of Ehrman, then it just comes across as bullying. Just stop going on and actually listen to what your guest is saying! I must admit that I'd take Jon Stewart over the irritating Colbert every day of the week. Stewart's interview with Ehrman a few weeks ago was a model of how to engage intelligently, by contrast. (See Bart Ehrman on the Daily Show). For one thing, it was pretty clear that Stewart had actually read and enjoyed the book.

I once did a live programme in the UK where I felt that we were on more to be laughed at than to be interviewed, and watching Bart on this programme reminded me of that. It was a programme called The Big Breakfast on Channel 4, back in the spring of 2001, when I'd been involved with the BBC's Son of God (Jesus: The Complete Story in the USA). I was on with Jean Claude Bragard, who had directed that series. My policy was just to laugh along with them rather than to get antagonised, and Jean Claude was very good and just cracked jokes, which was about the right method, I thought. Not sure how I would have coped if I'd been on my own, though.

Update (23.50): thanks for the helpful comments (see below) and emails. I must admit that I've never been a big fan of the Colbert Report -- I have found it so loud and irritating that I've never really managed to get into it in the same way that I've (just about) managed with The Daily Show. It may be that it will take a little more time. At the moment, I watch it until about 11.40, having left the channel on after Jon Stewart, and then I get annoyed and switch it off. The comments are, of course, quite right -- Colbert is ironically playing a character who is parodying right wing, evangelical Christians. What I suppose I meant to say is that in this context I don't know how well it works given that Bart Ehrman did not appear to be particularly comfortable with Colbert's character's interview and thus any attempted attack on fundamentalism backfires. All I can say is that if it had been me, I would not have been too chuffed. But then Bart at least gets on these programmes. As I mentioned previously, Bart is now -- surely -- the new Dom Crossan.


Jeremy Pierce said...

Actually, I though it was pretty funny. There were a couple places where I would say that Erhman wasn't prepared for the kind of thing that Colbert was going to do, and there were a few where Colbert wasn't allowing Ehrman to finish his points, but overall I thought it was as good as you're going to get in this format.
Ehrman's closing line was exactly the sort of thing he needed to say, too.

Viola said...

The Stephen Colbert character (as opposed to the real man) is a right-wing evangelical Christian. The show is primarily concerned with caricaturing, and so making fun of, the American Christian right-wing. They usually have a liberal-minded guest for Colbert to lay into. The object of the joke is not the guest, but the segment of society that is being caricatured. I would have thought that people who watch the show are liberal-minded people who want a good laugh at the religious-right.

I don't know Bart Ehrman, but I didn't think that he looked flustered at all. It seemed to me that he was aware of the sort of programme that he was on and went with the flow. He even gave as good as he got at the end.

As far as Colbert not allowing Ehrman to finish his points -- well, what else would one expect from the Stephen Colbert character?

J. J. Ramsey said...

"If he is attempting to make fun of Ehrman, then it just comes across as bullying"

Of course it comes off as bullying. Colbert is deliberately pretending to be an obnoxious, egotistical blowhard, after the fashion of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. Come on, in the name of the show, he even pretentiously mispronounces "Report" with a silent "t."

Whit said...

Mark, Thanks for this. I caught the Colbert Report interview, but missed your post and the interview on the Daily Show. You are right that the interview on the Daily Show is better in terms of Ehrman's content.

Ehrman is easy to read and with his appearance on shows like these, perhaps more people will find his books.

Christopher Shell said...

The choice of surname is a bit close to the bone, as one of the best-known evangalical nutritionists is Don Colbert.

Christopher Shell said...

Read 'evangelical'.
Bart Ehrman is a good example of why I'm uneasy with the media-scholarship relationship. The recent 'National Geographic' article on the GosJudas and the recent Da Vinci Code kerfuffle are two examples of what I hope is not ideology at work but may be. Namely:
-If you want a scholar to provide a quote that confirms the prejudices of the wo/man in the street, Elaine Pagels will be happy to oblige 100% of the time. Yet what about the times when her scholarly integrity might prevent her from doing so, as one would have thought it would?
-If you want a scholar to provide a more balanced point of view, yet to maximise emphasis on ('spin' towards) the more risque elements, look no further than Bart Ehrman.
For example, Ehrman must know that the NT is in a better position textually than the vast majority of other ancient writings. But would one guess this from his writings? On the contrary, the main message that comes across is the opposite: the NT is a special case not because of the strong MS evidence but because of the extent of corruption of the text (as though corruption were not a more general problem in ancient texts). How honest is this?