By Brad Friedman on 2/27/2007, 9:05am PT  

BRAD BLOG Guest Blogger Alan Breslauer had a thing or two to say last week about Fox "News'" phony new comedy show and how closely their phony comedy seemed to resemble their phony news.

Elsewhere in the 'sphere and beyond, since the premier of the 1/2 Hour News Hour, others have rung in with their own picks and pans (not suprisingly, mostly 'pans' from the Left and 'picks' from the Right.)

Setting aside the show's lack of, um, funniness (of course, being one of those wacko "Hollywood Liberals" they hamfistedly attempted to skew, I would say that, wouldn't I?) or the shamefully over-"sweetened" laugh track or the predictably stale "Liberal" bashing, what jumped out at me was how the show seemed once and for all to be an out-and-out admission by Fox "News" that they're not really a news outlet at all.

Of course, any intellectually honest observer has recognized that for some time. If they called themselves, more honestly, the Republican News Channel, at least they'd be nearer to telling the truth and Americans could take 'em or leave 'em. At least there would be little pretense that they are anything other than what they are: a crackerjack GOP Propaganda Machine.

But by programming a "comedy" show on their pretend "News" channel, they seem to be admitting, finally, out loud, that they aren't actually about news at all. It wouldn't be the first time, of course. Over Christmas they ran some Texas Baptist Church service nearly wall-to-wall for much of the weekend. Not that that's not "news," of course --- in Fox's world, anyway.

It's been amusing, if painful, to watch FNC's increasingly tortured attempts over the last several years as they try to find something --- anything --- to report on other than the actual news, since any honest reporting thereof would be so devastatingly counter to their own hard right political bias.

An endless war launched without reason and built on lies from the Oval Office itself? Yawn...what happened to that chick in Aruba?! The White House itself, for the first time in history, outting and destroying a major covert CIA intellegence operation monitoring WMD in the Middle East? Not interested...But did ya hear the latest on Anna Nicole?!

So now, with FNC even beginning to run dry on phony outrage, in the latest desperate Fox "News" Hail Mary attempt to fill 30 more minutes of their 24 hour broadcast day with anything but actual news, they've shamelessly set aside all pretense by choosing to fill those 30 minutes with attempts at satirical comedy. Sort of. Not even CNN or MSNBC has crossed that rubicon. Yet. But give 'em time.

While I rather enjoyed the cold opening with Rush and the unusually deer-in-the-headlighted Ann Coulter (both of whom sorta, kinda, almost actually succeeded in making fun of themselves a bit...something wholly lacking from the rest of the show), the rest of it went quickly downhill from there.

Imagine my surprise then, when halfway through the thing, an old acting colleague of mine showed up in one of the mid-show sketches. The first question that popped to mind when I saw Jonathan was, "What the hell must he have been thinking?!"

I gave him a call last week to find out...

"I don't really use politics in comedy. I have far rightwing and far leftwing beliefs," actor Jonathan Mangum explained. "No target is off-base for me, I'll make fun of anyone, anytime, as a comedian."

Jonathan said he'd originally auditioned for one of the two faux co-anchors --- the ones on the "comedy" show, not on FNC's Fox and Friends, just for clarity. He didn't get the front-man gig, but the producers liked him enough to call him back to see if he was interested in playing the wacky liberal "Professor" who could connect any incident, anywhere in the world, to show that it was actually caused by Global Warming, in six steps or less.

While admitting that, "he's a comedian for hire" and he was happy for the work, he'd be just as happy, in fact, would "love to work on The Daily Show." That's the show which features actual comedy based on news and which tends to skewer both Right and Left --- whoever happens to deserve it most on any given day.

I tried to learn what I could about the political atmosphere on the set of the bizarre 1/2 Hour during taping, but he insisted there really wasn't one. Other than the hard-right leaning script which was already written by the time he came aboard.

He suggested that, for all he knew, most of the actors on the show could actually be liberal. "Just based on the averages of the number of liberals in Hollywood," he said.

"I did not get a sense that they hired conservatives to do the comedy on the show," he explained, confirming that he was never asked about his own politics by anyone involved with the show.

A recognizable face on television commercials, and to Drew Carey Show fans where he appeared in nearly twenty episodes, Jonathan cited 1/2 Hour's comedy as "cutting edge" because it attempted to target the Left, which, he feels, is rarely targeted in comedy.

"I'm sure it made some people angry, knowing it's from a different point of view from what's normally seen. You rarely ever get that in comedy."

I disagreed. I told him that it seemed to be the same schtick that folks like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin have been passing off as "comedy" for years.

"Really? I don't think I've ever listened to Rush, so I can't tell you."

"Really?!" I asked, even more surprised in return.

"I'm political," he explained, "but if you said 'which group are you in, Republican or Democratic?', I couldn't tell you. I have so many beliefs on both sides. I don't agree with any one group or any one politician. It makes it very difficult when I go to vote."

I asked if he minded telling me if he ever voted for George W. Bush.

"I don't like to say who I voted for," he responded not particularly defensively. "I don't like when any actor takes a side publicly. Guys like Dennis Miller or George Clooney...when comedians and actors get up, and start pontificating on their political beliefs, I'm like 'You went to drama school, what the hell do you think you're doing?'"

I kept pressing on the show's backstage politics. Surely he must have gotten some sense of the politics of the producers and/or writers while working on the set?

"I did not. Everyone was nice and professional. It just seemed like any other show," he reported. "There was no discussion at all about the material."

How about the faux co-anchors? Surely, they had to be admitted Republicans, right?

"I have no idea," he said, suggesting that I try and get in touch with one of them to find out. But I had a feeling that the thirty minutes watching the show, and even doing this much in reporting on it, had already taken more out of my life than seemed fair.

"Look, if I had been offered that anchor position, I'd have taken it," he said, by way of warning that I shouldn't presume to guess at the politics of the guy who actually booked the role. "It's a job."

Wasn't he bothered by the mean-spiritedness of some of the material? The "jokes" making fun of Ed Begley, Jr. --- who had offended nobody --- simply because he chooses to drive an environmentally-correct car which, according to the show's running gag, broke down after failing to make it up a hill on the way to the show where he was scheduled to appear as a guest? (Begley never makes it because, as the Guest Hostess explains, he was detained by police when he "decided to hitchhike the last couple of miles to get here and apparently he fit the description of someone reported to be eating out of a dumpster." High-larity! Sweetened Laugh Track Ensues!)

Wasn't he disturbed by the unfortunate anti-environmentalist propaganda at a time when we're arguably at war over oil resources?

"I'm totally for alternative vehicles," he responded. "So, I can't speak to those jokes. If it's trying to be funny versus propaganda that's one thing. The Daily Show is clearly trying to be funny. And it succeeds. I watch it all the time. I see this show as trying to be funny, not as propaganda."

I've known Jonathan for some years, though not well, and yet have always found him to be an earnest, nice enough guy. I know his wife, an actor herself and a casting director for independent films, a bit better, and think the world of her.

Clearly Jonathan has given the benefit of the doubt to the producers on all of the above. It's hard to blame him. He's got an infant child to feed, after all, one which began crying loudly for food near the end of our call. (He asked me to point that out if I wrote about any of this. You're welcome, Jonathan.)

He did mention, however, that he does have a line or two over which he wouldn't cross. "The only thing that would freak me out would be doing a joke on the Muslim thing. Because people get murdered for that. If they wanted me to draw a picture of Mohamed or something, I probably wouldn't. For the safety of my family."

As to the future of 1/2 Hour News Hour --- which he said was originally called This Just In when he auditioned for the "anchor" job --- and his future on it, he said he'd be happy to do more episodes if they called.

He says he knows they've so far taped just two episodes as scheduled to run on FNC. He didn't know if anybody knew what would come after that, though he noticed that there were thousands of views of various clips posted to YouTube --- along with loads of comments mostly from folks who hated the show.

Ironically enough, the attention the show has received, via folks who hate it the most, may be all that Fox "News" needs to keep it on the air for a while. Hell, comedy's easy! Reporting actual news is hard! Especially when almost all of it which actually matters is decidedly unfunny (even by Fox standards) and tends to expose most of the propaganda that Fox "News" has been passing off for years as complete and utterly dangerous lies.

In the meantime, they'll get just as much, if not more, ink --- and perhaps even ratings, we'll see --- for the admittedly phony stuff as they do for the covertly phony stuff.

Nice going, Lefties.

UPDATE: Darrin Bell, creator of the comic strip Candorville, contacts us this morning with a coda to this story. Details here...