Michelle Wolf’s new Netflix show The Break has a tremendous disadvantage compared to her White House Correspondents’ Dinner monologue: She can’t cut to reaction shots of the Trump administration mouthpieces she’s making fun of. Still, her show, like all late night topical comedy, is perpetually in a dialogue with the dinner’s usual attendees, politicians and journalists alike, and it’s not a very cheerful conversation. Take this absolutely vicious and unsparing joke about NBC’s Meet the Press:
Kellyanne Conway was recently on Meet the Press for the ninth time to discuss the family separation policy.
Wait, no, that’s not the joke yet, it’s just vicious and unsparing. Here are the jokes:
It’s thrilling to watch Wolf take aim at media outlets upstream of the late night talk show entertainment complex, just as it was when Jon Stewart took down Crossfire. But Stewart’s bit—“it’s hurting America”—depended on the earnest idea that there was an America that needed, wanted, or was worth protecting. That’s the kind of unearned presumption of good faith that leads to missteps like having John McCain on your show or hosting some kind of “Rally to Restore Sanity,” and it’s refreshingly absent from Wolf’s closing:
That’s how these beautifully-crafted news dramas come together: You invite someone on your show because you know they’ll say something crazy, and then they say something crazy and you get to act outraged and we all watch it and talk about it. It’s like one long brothel orgy from Game of Thrones where you’re all getting paid and we’re all getting fucked. Imagine if these shows just reported the news. They wouldn’t need any of these guests at all, all they’d have to say is “Immigrant children have been ripped from their parents due to Trump’s policies. End of news.” But that’s so boring! Sure, you guys aren’t nearly as bad as the racist catheter-peddlers over at Fox News, but you’re still an accomplice if you’re giving a megaphone to a liar. Hey, but as long as you keep doing it, we’ll keep watching it. That’s entertainment!
There’s something more interesting than simple misanthropy going on with Wolf’s pivot at the end to condemning the audience for watching news-as-entertainment, given that a considerable part of the “we all watch and talk about it” phase of the Meet the Press strategy is talk shows clowning on whatever ridiculous thing Kellyanne Conway said on Meet the Press. The only way to get enough distance and perspective to be on firm ground issuing that kind of blanket condemnation is to move further downstream, maybe to a website that covers the talk shows that covers the news shows that invite Kellyanne Conway to lie on TV. Or maybe Wolf has figured out something important here: Since everyone is part of this rotten system, no one is disqualified from helping tear it to the ground. Your move, Chuck Todd.