Hollywood nights

I’m a Dave man to the core so I never watched Leno, but I didn’t have a particular animus against him. I did find him faintly annoying, though. Atrios:

Leno’s an asshole because too much of his comedy involves punching down. Ratings demonstrate lots of people like that, but I didn’t. Glad he’s outta there.

More and more, I’m inclined to group everyone I encounter, whether on teevee screen or on the internets or IRL, into people who punch down or people who punch up. There’s a surprising (or maybe it’s not so surprising) number of people who say they’re on the left and who vote do Democrat but who punch down with a vengeance. My impression is that almost everyone on the right is all about punching down.

Anyway, that’s probably the real divide (not in terms of voting but in terms of basic outlook), punching down versus punching up.

132 replies
  1. 1

    Most of MSM punditry belongs to the punch down, suck up variety.

  2. 2
    ArchTeryx says:

    It really does come to that, and what I believe separates real liberals from totebagger pretenders; totebaggers are just as into punching down as the conservatives are, even if they may cloak it in more civilized (and more patronizing) language. Real liberals punch up.

    And punching up is never easy. Those “up” people often determine if you have a job and thus, the ability to live any kind of life at all – and in a soft economic depression, it’s amazingly easy to get blacklisted. It’s my opinion that the bravest people in this society are those activists who are poor and who still punch up, because they take their ability to survive in their hands every time they do it.

    It cost me a job offer recently, when I was offered an insultingly low salary for the level of experience and expertise I brought to the table. I punched up – I gathered facts and figures, picked a middle number and told the head guy in charge this low – and no lower.

    They promptly withdrew the offer.

    Punching up always has its costs, but it’s the only way to fight for real change.

  3. 3

    I just got tired of Leno when he was still telling Monica Lewinsky jokes 5 years after the fact.

    I’m not a big Dave fan either, to be honest. Nothing against him I just don’t find him funny. I’m more of a Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert girl.

  4. 4
    d-boy says:

    More and more, I’m inclined to group everyone I encounter, whether on teevee screen or on the internets or IRL, into people who punch down or people who punch up.

    Damn, I just had the same thought today but I framed it in terms of people who favor equality vs. people who favor hierarchy. I like the way you put it better.

  5. 5
    West of the Cascades says:

    Hmmm – not sure about the clean separation here. A lot of the tea party rhetoric from the rabid (and often relatively poor) base is about punching up at “the elites” (Democrats, “Washington”, Hollywood) at the same time they are punching down at the poor(er). What does one make of people so bitter and ignorant that they punch out at everyone?

  6. 6
    Schlemizel says:

    Comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. Its what the media does these days.

    Leno used to be a decent stand up, now he is a pathetic suck up. One of the saddest things I learned was that there are 23 writers on the Tonight Show. 23 professional writers and they can’t come up with 2 funny jokes a week. Letterman is rarely any better. Neither has the gift that made Carson great – the ability to make the guest the star. These clowns want the whole show to be about them & that wears thin even if they had any talent.

  7. 7
    shelly says:

    Leno’s an asshole because too much of his comedy involves punching down.

    Yeah, I remember some of his ‘man in the street’ interviews where he’s obviously trying to get people to look stupid, and then seeing him getting testy when he doesn’t get the dimbulb effect he wants.

  8. 8
    Cassidy says:

    Punching up is easy. Shorten your jab, make sure it pops on the end, step in and throw hooks to the body.

  9. 9

    I like Colbert, no opinion on either Leno or Letterman, too late for me to stay up most nights. I am officially tired of winter, I can has sun please?

  10. 10
    Culture of Truth says:

    Do the tea party really punch up, though? I mean, railing against Hollywood, or the city of Washington? Ok, but are they actually willing to take on the powerful? Perhaps some do, but crazy people think the CIA put transistors in the fillings in their teeth.

  11. 11
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    I think only one comedian at any given time in history can be funny. All the others are lame and unfunny in comparison to this one special comedian, whoever that person may be at any given point in time. Leno was never that person.

  12. 12
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    Well it’s true that last time I watched Leno on the Tonight Show I thought his monologue needed a little punching up.

    Oh maybe that’s not what you meant.

  13. 13
    Sad_Dem says:

    One of the last times I watched Leno, he did a sketch that consisted of making fun of people who were walking around Universal Studios. It was lazy–go send a camera guy to shoot people in public who were unaware they were being recorded–and it was all about punching down–the jokes were based on the peoples’ appearance. I once also sat in the audience for a Leno show. The way the audience was talked to wasn’t very nice.

  14. 14
    West of the Rockies says:

    For whatever reasons, I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and purposefully watched any of the late-night shows (and I am 52 years old). Leno, however, in particular reminds me of Bob Hope in his later years: tell a joke, grin with self-satisfaction, mime a golf swing… blah.

  15. 15
    chopper says:

    i like to punch people in the junk. whether that’s ‘up’ or ‘down’ depends on how tall you are.

  16. 16
    dp says:

    This is a useful dichotomy.

  17. 17
    chopper says:

    @Southern Beale:

    he was a buffoon to begin with, but when i saw the ‘dancing itos’ i put a bullet through my tv.

  18. 18
    PeakVT says:

    Aside from usually not being funny, Leno’s delivery sucks. Carson was the master of letting the audience have time to think about the joke. Leno’s delivery reminds me of the disclaimers at the end of a car dealer ad.

    I found Letterman funny in the 1980s (and went to a taping in 1993) but nowadays his shtick is just a little tired to me.

  19. 19
    Splitting Image says:

    @Culture of Truth:

    Do the tea party really punch up, though? I mean, railing against Hollywood, or the city of Washington? Ok, but are they actually willing to take on the powerful? Perhaps some do, but crazy people think the CIA put transistors in the fillings in their teeth.

    Tea partiers invariably justify punching down by insisting that the most disadvantaged people in society are really elites. So poor blacks who use food stamps or Planned Parenthood services in greater than normal numbers are really lucky duckies who have access to services that poor widdle white people (such as the speaker) don’t get. So what you leftist/libtards don’t get is that what looks to you like punching down is really Speaking Truth to Power. Same with immigrants, gays, single mothers, etc, etc.

  20. 20
    The Dangerman says:

    Punching down, at least in Hollywood or the Media, is partly cultural. Name a reality show that isn’t about punching the loser. Walk of shame. Voted off the island. Every show does it and some shows have to go to preposterous levels to do it. You are the weakest link.

  21. 21
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Culture of Truth: The Tea Party began when Rick Santelli proposed that name in his infamous TV rant (despite all sorts of people who want to claim otherwise) and you couldn’t possibly “punch down” more than he was doing that day. This was someone in an industry that had just received billions in welfare delivering one long diatribe essentially about small time homeowners maybe getting some help.

  22. 22
    geg6 says:

    Leno has always sucked. Letterman was robbed and Carson said as much. Fuck Leno. So glad he’s gone. Fallon is a huge improvement and that isn’t saying much. Leno is an untalented suck up who will go down in history as the worst host in Tonight Show history. Of course, with such a brilliant roster of hosts, that wouldn’t be hard. But Letterman, at least, wouldn’t be such a complete embarrassment beside the likes of Allen, Parr and Carson as Leno is.

  23. 23
    J.Ty says:

    People love punching down. It’s civilization that’s difficult.

  24. 24
    West of the Rockies says:

    Speaking of stale comedians, anyone catch the Seinfeld interview (in the Newsmax link on this page) where he sounds pretty flippant about his featuring so many white males on his Comedians Getting Coffee (or whatever it’s called) program? It suddenly seems odd that his former partner-in-crime Michael Richardson went off on blah people (in his notorious N-clang rant) and now here is Seinfeld acting as though even asking about diversity is somehow offensive to him.

  25. 25
    Culture of Truth says:

    in my post, I was responding to West of the Cascades. Not to disagree, but just to add to the discussion.

  26. 26
    Roger Moore says:

    So you think real liberals want to tear down the rich./wingnut

    I think there’s also a matter of whether people want to offer a hand rather than a fist. It’s possible to help out people who need it without wanting to punch anyone, up or down.

  27. 27
    TomG says:

    I was always a Dave guy – first, my dorm watched him religiously when I was trying (again) to get a 4 year degree in 1985-6, Second, he was a big fan of Warren Zevon, whose music I love.

    Anyone remember the old HBO movie “The Late Shift” from 1996? It co-starred Kathy Bates and a number of character actors*, and kinda-sorta told the story of Dave and Jay’s fight for Johnny’s spot. Definitely worth watching.

    *including Bob Balaban, Peter Jurasik, Ed Begley Jr, and John Michael Higgins as Dave.

  28. 28
    patrick II says:

    I don’t particularly like Letterman’s opening routine, and generally I think he is somewhat mailing it in after all of these years. However, Dave shines when he has a guest he truly likes — generally someone who is quick witted but sometimes it just seems someone he is fond of for whatever reason. I try not to miss when someone like Tina Fey, Bill Murray, or (among the younger stars) Jennifer Lawrence is on.

  29. 29
    karen says:


    Fallon does, maybe that’s why he might succeed where Conan failed. Or that might be my bias, though I love Conan and Fallon.

    However, I don’t know what punch up and punch down means. Can you give me an example of comedians that do both because if punching down is making fun of someone or a situation don’t all comedians do that?

  30. 30
    patrick II says:


    My favorite story about the “The Late Shift” was Dave inviting the actor who played him onto the show — and then letting the actor sit in the Green Room the entire show because Dave “ran out of time”.

  31. 31
    shortstop says:

    @West of the Cascades: I always think of teabaggers as punching down while pretending to punch up. The reality of where their blows land belies the sincerity of their averred beliefs.

  32. 32
    Culture of Truth says:

    I think Seinfeld is getting a bad rap there. He left the tv show with something like $300 million and walked away from $200 million, can never top that show, but still does some standup. He got his millions, his homes and his cars and his wife, his kids, but to fill the time he does a web-based show where he drives around in a car with comic buddies. Some, but not many, are female or minorities. So when he’s asked, why isn’t your webby show with your friends more diverse, implying he’s racist or whatever, I’m not surprised his reaction is on the lines of ‘oh for fuck’s sake, really?’

  33. 33
    different-church-lady says:

    All I know is if you’re watching the late night shows for the monologs, you’re doing it way wrong.

  34. 34
    shortstop says:

    @Splitting Image: Splitting Image said it much better!

    @karen: Punching down is taking shots at people who have less power, status or influence than you do. Punching up is making fun of society’s real elites.

  35. 35
    TomG says:

    @karen: Someone will probably explain better, but “punching down” is basically making fun of people lower on the totem pole than you… the less powerful who can’t really respond or who don’t have much of a voice in the media (the poor, trans folk, the working class, for instance). punching up is making fun of the elites – the ones who HAVE the real power, who can make your life more difficult if they are offended.

  36. 36
    Roger Moore says:


    However, I don’t know what punch up and punch down means.

    Yes, a lot of comedy is about making fun of people. The question is whether you’re making fun of people who are higher status than you (punching up) or lower status than you (punching down).

  37. 37
    Splitting Image says:


    However, I don’t know what punch up and punch down means. Can you give me an example of comedians that do both because if punching down is making fun of someone or a situation don’t all comedians do that?

    Punching up is making fun of a super-rich Hollywood celebrity who imagines himself to be a spokesman for the common people because he played one in a movie once. Or laughing at Donald Trump on general principles. Punching down is basing a TV show around getting people to do humiliating things for money knowing how desperate some people are for the $500 or whatever that you might be offering.

  38. 38
    Joseph Nobles says:

    Mocking Snowden: punching up or down?

  39. 39
    different-church-lady says:

    @Joseph Nobles: Punching at shadows.

  40. 40
    MikeJ says:


    Fallon is a huge improvement and that isn’t saying much.

    They’ll neuter him when they move him to the earlier slot.

  41. 41
    different-church-lady says:

    @MikeJ: What’s the over-under on how long they let him play with it before they reinstall Leno this time?

  42. 42
    Culture of Truth says:

    “The Late Shift” was interesting because it tried to the human side of the story — Leno’s relationship with his manager and Dave’s desire to host the Tonight Show. The scene that stayed with me was where Dave calls Johnny at home and tells him how he finally got an offer to host the show — in 14 months. Johnny says, ‘if it were me, I would say no’. And Dave says, ‘yeah, you would wouldn’t you…’ and realizes he can either aim for Johnny’s show or be like Johnny and run his own show on CBS.

    I don’t know if it really happened but it’s a good life lesson.

  43. 43
    jl says:

    Cranky crank, let’s get together.
    Grouchy, grouch, me and you.
    And yell the things, ah, yell the things.
    That we like to yell.
    Do a little prance, make a lotta noise,
    Punch down tonight.
    Punch down tonight.
    Do a little prance, make a lotta noise
    Punch down tonight.
    Punch down tonight.
    Grouchy, grouch, I’ll meet you,
    Same place, same time.
    Where we can all grouch together.
    And grouch up our minds.
    Do a little prance, make a lotta noise,
    Punch down tonight.
    Punch down tonight.
    Do a little prance, make a lotta noise,
    Punch down tonight.
    Punch down tonight.

  44. 44
    Woodrowfan says:

    @Sad_Dem: that’s why I couldn’t stand “People of Walmart”

  45. 45
    shortstop says:

    Oddly, because I never watch the show and never have, I remember a gushing Chicago Tribune editorial when Leno got the gig: “Truly, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.” I recall rolling my eyes at the fatuousness of the piece. But I can’t remember if Leno really used to be nicer, or if the very white, super-XY, suburban-dwelling Trib editorial board just thought so because his was the kind of humor they found very safe and quite hilarious.

  46. 46
    Heliopause says:

    too much of his comedy involves punching down

    Is that true? I haven’t watched much Leno over the years but when I have he seemed to be doing the same kind of topical humor that Carson did.

  47. 47
    raven says:

    He was funny as Mookie in American Hot Wax a really good film about Alan Freed and rock and roll.

  48. 48
    jl says:

    There’s a song that has lyrics that sound like

    Kiss ’em when they’re up, kick when they’re down

    But I can’t quite remember what song it is. Whatever…

    Kiss ’em when they’re up, punch ’em when they’re down
    That’s how you make it rich and get aroun’
    That’s the way we like it, we like it!

    Not sure how many songs I mashed together there.

  49. 49
  50. 50
    shortstop says:

    @jl: I’ve had a rough night, and I hate the fucking Eagles, man.

  51. 51
    JoyfulA says:

    @Heliopause: I stopped watching Leno when his favorite joke was based on Janet Reno looking like a man.

  52. 52
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    I think the Tea Party up/down question depends entirely on context. If you’re of the FOX News mindset and think that “lucky duckies” surviving on unemployment are actually an evil dominant force controlling the country, then you can think you’re punching up even while you’re actually punching down to the most unfortunate among us. On the other hand if you’re screaming about government repression and the jackbooted lawless Muslim or Janet Reno (same people back then basically) then you really are doing something more like punching up, though of course that’s something you never did when George W was the one in charge.

    The mental filters are running day and night, in other words, sort of like “been nuts so long, down seems like up to me”.

  53. 53
    mainmata says:

    Punching up or down is partly a matter of life philosophy – your basic socio-political orientation – and a matter of personality. A lot of good people don’t punch up because they cannot face the confrontation involved. I don’t judge them but I try to help them when I can because I am a confrontationalist (in a subtle way, otherwise I would have self-destructed long ago).

  54. 54
    karen says:

    @West of the Rockies:

    It’s not a show where he’s featuring different comedians as a talk show host. They’re basically his friends and they’re in their 40s and 50s and are mostly male and white. I don’t think it’s a hatred or racist thing because if that was the case he wouldn’t have had Chris Rock. I haven’t seen the show but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were mostly East coast comedians and if a lot of them were Jewish.

    And to compare him with Michael Richards – who said the fucking “N” word is stupid because Seinfield hasn’t said that in any of his stand-up bits.

    When do we reach a point where not including someone doesn’t mean racism? It’s not the same as intentionally leaving someone out. If a TV show doesn’t have a Jewish character does it make the show anti-semitic? Has there been a black comedian who has asked to be in “Coffee” who has been rejected? I’m the first person to notice racism but there has to be a point where things are just a matter of experience and who you associate with.

  55. 55
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    @raven: Not the Eagles, Don Henley.

  56. 56
    jl says:


    ” Dirty Laundry, Eagles.”

    Thanks, I guess. I’m not an Eagle fan. That’s the kind of anodyne rock I don’t like very much, so just follow the tune, never check what the band is. Probably a lot of famous Eagles songs I hear and don’t really know what they are.

  57. 57
    raven says:

    @BillinGlendaleCA: Uh, the video is of the Eagles doing it with Don singing it.

  58. 58
    Irony Abounds says:

    What’s amazing is the difference between Leno the Tonight Show host and Leno the Letterman guest pre-Tonight Show. The former is about as memorable as a saltine cracker (honestly, can you really think back over Leno’s 20+ years as a Tonight Show host of any must see TV?), while the latter was genuinely funny, with an edge and a real sense of irony. It is also amazing that someone who is truly lame as an interviewer like Leno hosted a talk show for almost 20+ years. I can understand why some people don’t like Letterman, but have a much harder time understanding why people like Leno.

  59. 59
    jl says:

    @Irony Abounds: Maybe when Leno was a guest, he was mostly following a script, either written out or in his head.? Most of the celebrity interviews on talk shows are pretty canned, if that is what the guest wants.

  60. 60
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    @raven: It was a solo song, but I believe the Eagles did perform it on the ‘Hell Freezes Over’ tour.

  61. 61
    Culture of Truth says:

    Chris Christie is learning that when you’re on the ropes suddenly your hear from all the people you punched on your way to the top.

  62. 62
    Shortstop says:

    @jl: You and the Dude share good taste.

    OT, just looking at Kevin O’Dowd, you can tell he’s a supergigantico asshole.

  63. 63
    raven says:

    @BillinGlendaleCA: You need to catch my brother’s Floyd cover band out there sometime.


  64. 64
    Baud says:

    @Culture of Truth:

    That’s a lot of people.

  65. 65
    jl says:

    I remember watching a clip of Dangerfield on the Carson Tonight Show, (or what it Letterman?).

    Anyway, Dangerfiled usually kept his routine going through the interview. In this clip, the host tried to get Dangerfield out of his character. And Dangerfield just smiled and gave the host this look that said “Yeah, sure, go ahead and try, buddy” And Dangerfield kept up the typical Dangerfield jokes.

    In an interview where Dangerfield went out character and was Jacob Cohen, he said he always prepared more jokes for the panel or interview afterward than for his act.

    Dangerfield did that because that was how he wanted it. He could ad lib like crazy. But maybe Leno had everything scripted out because that was all he was really good at. He’s the kind of comic who is really more a specialized kind of comedic actor.

  66. 66
    mclaren says:

    You’re talking about the difference twixt bully worshipers and people who believe in a free society. Most of the Balloon Juice commentariat adore kicking cripples, children, the sick, the poor, etc. And if someone isn’t crippled or poor, the Balloon Juice commentariat are eager to make them so, if necessary with baseball bats and a lynch mob rope strung over a tree…

    Mnemosyne, eemom, Yutsano, Omnes Omnibus, burnspbesq, I’m talking about YOU.

    …The American people, taking them by and large, are the most timorous, sniveling, poltroonish, ignominious mob of serfs and goose-steppers ever gathered under one flag in Christendom since the fall of the Eastern Empire. — H. L. Mencken, “On Living in the United States,” 1921

  67. 67
    jl says:

    @Shortstop: I know Hotel California! (that’s an Eagles song, right?)

  68. 68
    Culture of Truth says:

    I think even Dave has concded, in left handed compliment kind of way, that Jay was better at reading audiences than he, and was more willling to hustle to get what he wanted.

  69. 69
    raven says:

    @mclaren: You’re still a fucking cretin.

  70. 70
    mclaren says:


    Uttered with all the eloquence and every bit of encylopedic knowledge we’ve come to expect from an Americano. You, sir, are a true representation of your nation.

  71. 71
    gwangung says:

    @karen: Prime example of TRYING to punch down.: @mclaren:

    At least, it thinks it is.

  72. 72
    raven says:

    @mclaren: And you are a shit eatin dog fucker of the lowest denomination.

  73. 73
    shortstop says:

    @jl: Ugh. (Sorry, probably should have linked this with my earlier comment.)

  74. 74
    jibeaux says:

    Fallon’s a big improvement. I like his enthusiastic vibe even though I often find that vibe annoying, because I think it’s pretty sincere with him. He’s great with guests and fantastic at impressions and his parody songs are classics. His jokes are actually probably his weak spot.

  75. 75
    Suffern ACE says:

    I think my only favorite Leno moment was when he was interviewing David Spade, who was going off on some non-funny bit about the trials of not being gay and living in San Francisco, and Leno missed the point and thought David Spade was tacitly coming out of the closet on his show. About 15 years ago, I kind of stopped watching both nighttime shows.

  76. 76
    WereBear says:

    The Late Shift movie was remarkably true to the Late Shift book, which was a work of journalism.

    NBC wanted bland, and Dave was too edgy.They worried he couldn’t interview, they worried he couldn’t bring in the olds, they were nervous out of all proportion to the talent they had, so they picked the journeyman comic with the rabid-wolverine agent.

    Dave did the right thing getting his own show. Look what NBC did with Leno/Conan! The same stupid thing all over again.

  77. 77
    sdhays says:

    I remember enjoying Leno better than Letterman back in the 90’s. Then I went for a decade or so without seeing either of them, and now I think they’re both terrible and boring. Conan, though, still has some truly hilarious stuff (some of the Clueless Gamer segments leave me in tears, even after seeing them multiple times), and Craig Ferguson’s monologues can be pretty entertaining. Obviously, Stewart and Colbert are masters. I haven’t seen much of Fallon, but my parents love him, and he seems truly multi-talented, which none of the other guys can claim to be.

    Speaking of “punching down”, Ferguson’s monologue about why he wasn’t making fun of Britney Spears as she was spiraling the drain years ago was pretty impressive. He talked about his years struggling as an alcoholic, even contemplating suicide at one point. He was pretty masterful in talking about some genuinely serious (and quite personal) stuff without getting preachy or whiny or self-righteous, and he did it at the top of the show, where the whole idea is to get everyone laughing and pumped up for the rest of the show. I don’t remember any other late night monologues, but that one sticks out in my brain.

  78. 78
    Culture of Truth says:

    @jibeaux: Sounds right. He’s not a typical comedian but he seems like a decent person and is more youthful and creative and the parodies are funny. A proverbial’ breath of fresh air’ who I assume has become and will be a better interviewer and overall host.

  79. 79
    ultraviolet thunder says:

    It’s all been downhill since Jack Paar.
    Who’s on the lawn?! Where’s my flashlight!?!

  80. 80
    ultraviolet thunder says:

    My wife is a big fan of Ferguson. I don’t watch a lot of late night TV, but Ferguson comes off as pretty honest and vulnerable for an entertainer in front of cameras and an audience. Sometimes that doesn’t work but when it does it’s very gratifying.

  81. 81
    Matt McIrvin says:

    Letterman was never very consistent in the punching-up department himself. Especially after he got the CBS gig, he got a lot of mileage out of sort of mocking all these awkward regular folks with small businesses in the neighborhood, many of them recent immigrants. That never sat entirely well with me.

    He was funnier than Leno, though, at least in his earlier days. I haven’t watched him (or any late-night TV other than The Daily Show and Colbert) in a long time.

  82. 82
    mclaren says:


    And you are a shit eatin dog fucker of the lowest denomination.

    With that kind of platform, only a matter of time before this guy runs for senator.

  83. 83
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    You’re talking about the difference twixt bully worshipers and people who believe in a free society. Most of the Balloon Juice commentariat adore kicking cripples, children, the sick, the poor, etc. And if someone isn’t crippled or poor, the Balloon Juice commentariat are eager to make them so, if necessary with baseball bats and a lynch mob rope strung over a tree…

    Mnemosyne, eemom, Yutsano, Omnes Omnibus, burnspbesq, I’m talking about YOU.


  84. 84
    mai naem says:

    I’ve just always thought Leno was blah. I was kind of po’d when he let Schwarzenegger use him for his governator announcement. I read somewhere that Gary Shandling was NBC’s top choice to replace Carson which is freaking hilarious. Last time I saw him on Bill Maher he was so obviously toasted. I really like Fallon. There’s a decency about him, like Carson. I don’t know if Jon Stewart would do a regular talk show but I think he would be as good as Carson at it. Jimmy Kimmel’s pretty good too.

  85. 85
    Botsplainer says:

    Eagerly awaiting commentary from Griftwald, Snowjob, Poutass and Julian Asshole on their Freedom Partner.


    Journalist hacked immediately.

  86. 86
    Matt McIrvin says:

    Jon Stewart actually had a regular talk show for a short time in the 1990s. It started out on MTV, did well, then flopped in syndication as a replacement for Arsenio Hall:


  87. 87
    sdhays says:

    @ultraviolet thunder: Yeah, “honest and vulnerable” is a good way of describing him. It gives him an intriguing presence that other more…polished? talk show hosts don’t have.

  88. 88
    Matt McIrvin says:

    I think we need a third category, “punching primarily at Balloon Juice commenters.”

  89. 89
    Mandalay says:

    @West of the Rockies:

    anyone catch the Seinfeld interview…where he sounds pretty flippant about his featuring so many white males on his Comedians Getting Coffee…program?

    There was a thread on this yesterday. Opinion was divided.

  90. 90
    Mandalay says:

    punching down versus punching up

    Bill Maher does a fair bit of punching down, but maybe that’s because he’s a DINO – rock solid on weed and gay rights, but other stuff not so much.

  91. 91
    Tom Q says:

    I’ll expose myself as an oldster by saying I think Carson gets a lot more credit than he deserves for his later years. He was definitely funny/edgy in the 60s/maybe 70s, but after a while it was all “Wrong, buffalo breath”, “How hot was it?”, “May the Ti-D-Bowl man fly up your nose” — the same lame jokes by rote every night.

    Leno was very funny as a stand-up, and, as others have pointed out, a terrific regular guest on Letterman. But the Tonight Show job just drained him of any juice. I actually understood NBC’s position in choosing Leno over Letterman to replace Carson…The Tonight Show was an established brand/format it seemed Leno could slip comfortably into; Letterman, wherever he went, was going to carry his unique approach (his was the only original talk show of that era). At the time, no one knew if Letterman’s late-late sensibility could be successfully transplanted to the 11:30 hour (which he obviously managed, very well).

    To address the original point: I guess I don’t really see Leno as a punch-down kind of guy. I just think he does safe, no-boats-rocked material (to the point my 75-year-old Republican relatives like him). By most accounts, he’s a likable human being (and a Democrat). He’s not at all to my taste, but I don’t find his blandness despicable like so many seem to.

  92. 92
    Mike in NC says:

    Both Leno and Letterman are and have been for the past 25+ years rich, conservative, Republican assholes. Why does that come as news to anybody?

  93. 93
    karen says:

    @Mike in NC:

    Letterman isn’t a Republican. I don’t know about Leno. What made you think Letterman is a Conservative Republican?

  94. 94
    chopper says:


    If “mclaren is a shit eating dogfucker” is his platform he’ll win every vote in America. I say go with it.

  95. 95
    Mike in NC says:

    @karen: Oh, his constant sucking up to John McCain, for starters.

  96. 96
    Console says:

    A lot of times where I see the dissonance is with liberals and sports. It’s like pulling teeth to get people to buy into the idea that the NCAA is corrupt or the idea that professional sports (particularly football and basketball) are utterly exploitative. I get that it’s hard to pick sides in a fight that’s about millionaires vs. billionaires, (or in the case of college sports about millionaires vs. unpaid labor) but sports seems to be the area where liberals are willing to punch down.

  97. 97
    Steeplejack says:

    @patrick II:

    Okay, that’s punching down.

  98. 98
    karen says:

    @Mike in NC:

    He didn’t suck up to him, in fact he badmouthed him until he appeared on his show. But remember, McCain had this whole Hollywood thing. Jimmy Fallon had Mitt Romney on the other week to discuss his documentary would you say he’s a Conservative Republican for it?

  99. 99
    patrick II says:

    @Mike in NC:

    I don’t think you watch Letterman much. Rush Limbaugh was a guest once and Letterman ripped him up –while smiling the whole time.

  100. 100

    […] Over at Balloon Juice, DougJ expands on “punching down”: […]

  101. 101
    Steeplejack says:


    I have found myself enjoying Craig Ferguson a lot lately. The TV would end up on CBS in the background, I would sort of pay attention to the Top 10 list on Letterman’s show, then mostly tune it out. Eventually Ferguson would come on, and I found myself actually getting engaged a fair amount of the time. He has done some quirky but very interesting interviews with his guests. They’re not even really “interviews.” They just get talking about something, even something trivial, and Ferguson steers it in an interesting direction without appearing to be steering. The young actress from Suburgatory (Jane Levy) was a good recent example.

  102. 102
    Yatsuno says:

    @mclaren: My only response is this: I’m gonna love and tolerate the shit outta you. And there is nothing you can do to stop me.

    @Steeplejack: “Awkward silence or mouth organ?”

  103. 103
    J.D. Rhoades says:

    @ultraviolet thunder: @Steeplejack:

    I also seem to recall Ferguson having a lot of .writers on.

  104. 104
    gogol's wife says:

    @ultraviolet thunder:

    C’mon, Jack Paar couldn’t hold a candle to Steve Allen. Smock, smock!

  105. 105
    Jebediah, RBG says:

    @gogol’s wife:
    And neither could measure up to Alan Brady!

  106. 106
    Jebediah, RBG says:

    I like Ferguson a lot.

    Must have missed a thread or three, but what’s the deal with the new job? Still a jack-booted thug of taxatious oppression, or? And congratulations!

  107. 107
    GregB says:

    The Three Stooges made punching up an art. Leno is a tired old pud and Seinfeld aint far behind.

  108. 108
    mainmata says:

    Is this even an argument? Leno always sucked up to power; that was her persona, from his many cars to his swagger in his interviews.

  109. 109
    Chet says:

    @Console: I think liberals are more willing to punch down at sports fans (uncouth Bud-chugging philistines, etc.), while conservatives are more willing to punch down at the athletes themselves (overpaid, ‘roided-up thugs). Particularly the blah ones.

  110. 110
    catclub says:

    @dp: “This is a useful dichotomy.”
    Abraham Lincoln said that as he got older he limited his pleasure reading to the Bible and Shakespeare. I would add in Dante.

  111. 111
    Chet says:

    “White trash” are one group that soi-disant “progressives” love – absolutely fucking love – punching down at.

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  113. 113
    Steeplejack says:



    @J.D. Rhoades:

    Yeah, I was (pleasantly) surprised to see that he had Jo Nesbø on recently. I just finished binge-reading all the Harry Hole novels. Even Colbert, who has a lot of writers on, typically goes for nonfiction authors.

  114. 114
    Roger Moore says:

    They’re just trying to protect the Olympics from terrorists, so tapping everyone’s phone is fine. Just ask NSA!

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    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: It’s coming from someone who wants to “bang” McMegan; I’d just back quietly away.

  116. 116
    stinger says:

    For me, Leno’s must-see interview was Hugh Grant on his apology tour in 1995. And he handled it really well — Grant owes him, big time.

    I’m with Southern Beale, though — Leno made a point of telling a Clenis joke every. single. night. for years. After more than a decade of not watching, I caught his monologue once a couple of months ago (he must have had a guest I wanted to see) and, unbelievably, he told a Clenis joke.

  117. 117
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @stinger: IIRC Grant went on Leno’s show because Leno guaranteed soft treatment.

  118. 118
    Chris says:

    @Splitting Image:

    Tea partiers invariably justify punching down by insisting that the most disadvantaged people in society are really elites.


    I always think of teabaggers as punching down while pretending to punch up. The reality of where their blows land belies the sincerity of their averred beliefs.

    1) This.

    2) This is also why they’re prone to inventing lunatic conspiracies that secretly control the world or are trying to – the Illuminati Freemasons in the nineteenth century, the Elders of Zion in the late nineteenth/early twentieth, the Card-Carrying Communists Conspiracy in the fifties onwards. Easier and more comfortable to blame and “fight” an imaginary elite onto which you project all the things you don’t like, than the real ones. (Real elites, of course, know this, which is why they encourage the proliferation of such conspiracy theories).

    3) Even when they do attack well-off people that legitimately qualify as “elites,” they always pick their targets carefully. Their favorite targets tend to be people like college professors and Hollywood stars – not poor people by any means, but they don’t exactly wield the kind of power Wall Street bankers do either.

  119. 119

    @different-church-lady: I’m serious.

    Mocking St. Greenwald is punching up for someone like me. It’s a large part of why I instantly denounced Rep. Peter King for mouthing off about Greenwald, because that’s punching down for him. Plus, King arguably has got the power to do something about his statements. Greenwald has nothing to fear from the likes of me. There’s no reason for him to even notice I’ve said something. And so I mock him as freely as I wish, even while acknowledging the benefits of his participation in the public discourse. (Could Greenwald have qualified that statement any better than I just did? I think I got all the angles…)

    But Snowden? Well, Snowden has nothing to fear from me, either. And again, there’s no reason he should even know I exist. But the power he has personally seems to be on a different level than Greenwald. He’s a little more empowered in his position than Chelsea Manning. But not much. Yes, that means I don’t think he’s a Russian agent or any such thing – he’s a true believer. So while I have derided him at times, it doesn’t seem right thinking about it in this light.

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    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Joseph Nobles: Not directly responsive to your post, but, in addition to punching up and punching down, there is simply punching back.

  121. 121
    Glocksman says:

    Maybe I’m the outlier here, but I couldn’t stand Carson, disliked Letterman, didn’t care either way about Leno, and positively detest Jimmy Fallon.

    Look up ‘smarmy asshole’ in the dictionary and you’ll Jimmy Fallon’s picture next to Paul Ryan’s.

  122. 122
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Glocksman: It is possible that you simply don’t like late night comedy talk shows. Just sayin’.

  123. 123
    Chris Rich says:

    Slagging the harmless or hapless for mean laughs seems to be a primary element of the American style of comedy. Maybe it’s another extension of our endless exceptionalism.

    But look across the water and you’ll find a shift to whimsy and absurd. Think “Ministry of Silly Walks” Humor in France is full of examples.

    In the US, the whimsy/absurd style is like an alternative. The dog in Family Guy does a Broadway show number of “Everything’s Better With A Bag of Weed” …. that sorta thing

    Or Firesign Theater.

    Stewart is able to work the absurdist side fairly well. Maybe we are shifting from a snarling culture that needs to lard its comedy with sadism to one that prefers stoned giggles at the sight of silly walks.

    One can hope.

  124. 124
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Chris Rich:

    Slagging the harmless or hapless for mean laughs seems to be a primary element of the American style of comedy.

    Crap. Name the names of the perpetrators.

  125. 125
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Chris Rich: @Omnes Omnibus: Twain? Rogers? Rock? Pryor? Carlin? I can go on….

  126. 126
    Chris Rich says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I dunno, Don Rickles is a classic of the genre.

    Some might even argue that Limbaugh is extreme snarl humor pretending to be rightwing commentary. Fox is snarl humor masked as news.

    It’s a gnarly snarly culture awash in butthurt, screeching, the earnestness for being important, jabbing jabber, swelling shrill and delusions of significance.

  127. 127
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Chris Rich: Yeah, Rickles is considered the epitome of American humor. FFS.

  128. 128
    Citizen Alan says:

    I never thought Leno was funny on The Tonight Show, but I didn’t actively dislike him until the third time he told a joke making fun of Stella Liebeck, the McDonald’s Hot Coffee lady. The poor woman got third degree burns on her genitals and he still made fun of her. Prick.

    The real tragedy of Jay Leno’s life, IMO, is that he was monomanically bent on getting The Tonight Show when he was so obviously ill-suited to a chat show. If he’d asked NBC to support him in a reasonably well-written sitcom, it would have run for 20 years.

    And as somebody noted, watching Letterman brutally dismantle Rush Limbaugh while smiling the whole time is one of my favorite memories of the Late Show.

    Letterman: Well, see, you can get away with saying things like that because you’re the perfect physical specimen.

  129. 129
    EconWatcher says:

    I’ve only watched Leno a few times, but it seems like every time he managed to make a prison rape joke. He’d have this impish smirk on his face, as he shared this “edgy” humor with his audience.

    Yeah, Jay, it’s absolutely hilarious when an 18 year old thrown in jail for selling some weed gets his insides torn apart by a ravenous gang, so that the rest of his life he’ll be a broken, haunted shadow of himself.

    What a sick jerk.

  130. 130
    debbie says:

    His opening bits aren’t as reliable as they used to be, but hands down, Letterman’s still the best interviewer on late night.

  131. 131
    PhedUp says:


    Which could be a result of racism couldn’t it?

  132. 132
    Tokyokie says:

    @karen: Late to the discussion, but I thought I’d chime in all the same. I’ve always thought that the best comedy came from a place of anger, and that it was a matter of rechanneling that anger. A great comedian’s sympathies will always lie with the underdog (or oppressed, if you will), never with the privileged. Charlie Chaplin ALWAYS sided with the little guy, usually playing that role himself. (OK, maybe not Monsieur Verdoux.) Buster Keaton’s politics were a bit more complex and cynical, but he ALWAYS sided with the little guy against the system. The Marx Brothers ALWAYS targeted the privileged. Sure, Groucho was always punching down intellectually, but the butts of his jokes, whether it be Margaret Dumont (who reportedly never got the jokes) or Sig Ruman, were invariably higher than him on the social ladder.

    Moving to more modern comics, George Carlin always took on the establishment. So did Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, even if they used themselves as comic foils to make such criticisms. Mel Brooks’ early movies are those of an outsider, because anybody deeply tied to the system could not be angry enough to show its laughable contradictions as hilariously as Brooks does in The Producers and Blazing Saddles.

    And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the names on that list are those of Jews and blacks, all permanent outsiders.

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