washingtonpost.com  > Columns > The Reliable Source
Reliable Source - Richard Leiby

Punditry, After the Shouting

By Richard Leiby
The Washington Post
Sunday, February 13, 2005; Page D03

Brawling pundits and braying experts! Lies from the left and right! What's a polarized nation to do?

Seriously, that question was plumbed at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo., at a seminar yesterday titled "Wag the Debate: What's the Future of the Pundit?" Naturally it devolved into a shouting match despite the best efforts of opinionated media personalities to restrain themselves. "We almost became a parody of ourselves," admitted MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, who found himself exclaiming "Oh, that's garbage!" while moderating the panel that included liberal radio's Janeane Garofalo, conservative radio's Laura Ingraham, Democratic consultant Joe Lockhart, right-leaning comedian Sheryl Underwood and liberal author Eric Alterman. The seventh member: Ben Karlin, executive producer of "The Daily Show," who said, "I'm just humbled to be on stage with so many people I've made fun of."

_____Live Online_____
Join new Reliable Source Richard Leiby Thursdays at noon ET to share tips, chew the fat and discuss the dish in his daily column.

But forget the substantive debate; you can watch that later on C-SPAN. The real highlight was the persistent affection Underwood displayed for Lockhart, the former Clinton and Kerry spokesman: Kisses and hand-holding ensued after Lockhart took his place next to her on the stage, introduced by Scarborough as "Bachelor Number One."

An actress from Los Angeles, Underwood spooned to the hilt, while Lockhart, known in Washington these days as a ladies' man, mostly seemed uncomfortable. Afterward she declared her intention to marry him: "Oh, he's sexy, a big, handsome, juicy white man." Her ideal date? "Oh, baby. We will be in the 'hood at the club, kickin' it, drinking some cognac, eating some chicken wings, listening to some . . . Mos Def!"

Later, Lockhart uncharacteristically offered no comment.

Garry Trudeau's Ski Trip-Up

• After breaking a collarbone in a skiing mishap, "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau will be unable to draw his strip for at least a couple of weeks. But he wasn't going to pass up a free speech award presented to him Friday in Aspen at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival -- even though it meant arriving onstage on a hospital gurney, nearly immobilized by pain, his right arm in a sling. Still, he managed to play it for laughs.

"I was taken out by a ski instructor," Trudeau told fellow cartoonist Aaron McGruder ("Boondocks"), who presented the award. The instructor evidently intervened to slow Trudeau's momentum because he was zooming toward some trees, but Trudeau said, "I don't remember any of it." McGruder archly suggested a plot (by actors unknown) to deny the prize to Trudeau, who has never been a favorite of the powers-that-be. "Now I've been called a conspiracy theorist," McGruder said to laughter, "but I will let the audience draw its own conclusions."

Never rising from the gurney, Trudeau, 56, discoursed with McGruder for 1 1/2 hours, covering his nearly 35-year run as a controversial chronicler of national events. Yesterday he was walking and taking in other festival events. "I feel a lot better," he told us, then wiggled the fingers of his drawing hand. "That looks pretty good," he said, optimistically predicting he'd be back cartooning after "two weeks at most."

At the Friday program's close, McGruder asked Trudeau how long he would keep cartooning. He replied: "As long as they let me, I guess."

A Cartoon Panel Just Full of Chuckles

• With all their angst, gloom and eccentricity, graphic novels might not strike most people as funny, yet their creators were celebrated at the HBO-sponsored U.S. Comedy Arts Festival last week. "None of you people are really funny," author Dave Eggers observed after introducing a panel of artists who have popularized the form: Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Chris Ware and Lynda Barry. "It's actually a Cinemax Tragedy Festival," said Clowes, best known for "Ghost World." The audience laughed.

The solo-named cartoonist Kaz, whose strip features a rat of absolutely no redeeming moral value, acknowledged the darkness of his humor. "If it's sad and bitter, you know, I find that hilarious, too," he said. More laughter.

"I am myself a failed cartoonist," said Eggers, proving his point by showing a sample of his early work for an alternative newspaper in San Francisco. It featured a character named Steve the Grinning Handbag and bore the caption, "There are a million reasons to ruin things." So true. And, somehow, funny.

An Author's Smith Point Prep Work

• It's only fitting that Smith Point, the basement bar in Georgetown, would host a book party for Curtis Sittenfeld. The 29-year-old has a bestseller with her novel "Prep," about an outsider going to a New England prep school. And Smith Point is Preppyville, its 150-member crowd dressed up -- or down? -- in country club chic. You know, plaid pants, pearl necklaces, collars turned up, lots of Ralph Lauren. Chowing down on crab cakes and steak on bruschetta, naturally.

"This is definitely the preppy contingency," Smith Point regular Gillian Markert, her autographed book in tow, told The Post's Jose Antonio Vargas on Thursday night. Markert attended Notre Dame Prep in Towson. "This is classic, old-school preppy. So why not have her book party here?"

Smith Point is also the favorite nightspot of the 23-year-old Bush twins, who Markert says blend in quite easily with the crowd of young professionals in their twenties and thirties. (Read: No undergrads allowed.) Alas, on this night, Jenna and Barbara were no-shows.

With Anne Schroeder

© 2005 The Washington Post Company