Doug Brinkley's Latest Triumph

Veteran comic actor Douglas Brinkley, best known for his pitch-perfect television cameos as a shamelessly sycophantic, celebrity-smitten history professor--Scrapbook readers will doubtless remember Brinkley's hilarious performance as "the candidate's biographer" on last season's since-cancelled John Kerry Show--may finally be getting the A-list entertainment-industry treatment he's long deserved.

Brinkley's standing among his fellow thespians has never been in question, of course: Despite his relative obscurity in a less-prestigious medium, even the biggest of big-screen personalities clearly consider him one of their own--both socially and professionally. It was just a couple months ago, after all, that New Orleans Times-Picayune society columnist Chris Rose reported the following Tinseltown-on-Location-in-the-Big-Easy megascoop: "Saturday night, [Sean] Penn showed up at The Columns on the Avenue, taking a front porch table with a group of guys that included local historian Doug Brinkley, whose connection to Penn is that they're mutual friends of Hunter S. Thompson." And there "with Brinkley and Penn was [Jude] Law, whose mere physical proximity has caused bronze nudes to melt into smoldering puddles of molten lava."

But Mr. Brinkley, thank goodness, appears to have survived that evening in solid form.

Item the first: Brinkley has lately inked a development deal to become the featured star of a new, independently produced reality show set in New Orleans. Its creators haven't yet settled on a name for the program, but Brinkley will play the role of "director" at the "Theodore Roosevelt Center for American Civilization"--described in the show's promotional materials as a division of "Tulane University." We're laughing already.

Item the second: Even as he pursues this unprecedented opportunity, Brinkley apparently remains contractually free--and eager--to continue accepting a full range of walk-on roles with established productions back in Los Angeles. As recently as February 27, for example, Brinkley did a show-stealing turn on page two of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, a revered if low-rated Sunday morning institution in Movieland. The gag for Brinkley's episode involved the Times asking his character, a "distinguished professor of history," to review a new oral-history biography of a certain celebrity whom the professor considers a personal friend. And the professor, desperate to further ingratiate himself with his marquee-named pal, decides to accept the assignment, notwithstanding his conflict of interest, which he nowhere acknowledges in the review he winds up turning in.

The result? A direct hit to the funny bone! C'mon: Who else but Douglas Brinkley could pull off side-splitters like these:

"Several things become clear when reading Richard T. Kelly's Sean Penn: His Life and Times. . . . Unflinching in his artistic integrity, Penn over the last two decades has forged fast friendships with such gifted actors as Jack Nicholson [etc., etc.]. . . . Penn championed the underdog even at an early age, growing up in the fashionable communities of Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks, and Malibu. . . . A staunch advocate of prison reform, Penn would have become a civil rights lawyer if he hadn't been an actor. . . . And one thing is for certain. Whether he is acting, directing, writing, or dissenting, he will do it his way, with the least amount of negotiation possible." And so forth.

Here, as always, Brinkley's depiction of craven, semi-dishonest, pseudo-scholarly toadyism is so riotously funny and compelling that one almost forgets it's only comedy--that he isn't really a "distinguished professor of history" at all.

Pray for Nuclear Rain

The Scrapbook doesn't make a habit of watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. And neither (so he claims, at least) does the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto. But he does admit to having watched--and recorded--last Tuesday's edition. Which is how Taranto was then able to produce for OpinionJournal.com his truly amazing transcription of Stewart's interview with Nancy Soderberg.

(Ms. Soderberg was a high-level National Security Council aide and U.N. ambassador during the Clinton years. Mr. Stewart, needless to say, is the leading critic of contemporary American political discourse. Except when people criticize him back, at which point he becomes "just a comedian," like Douglas Brinkley.)

Anyhow, Soderberg was on the Daily Show to promote her new book, The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might--the "misuse" she originally had in mind being . . . well, pretty much everything that George W. Bush has done since Soderberg's party lost control of the White House. It seems that Jon Stewart would very much prefer to think that Soderberg's book has the Bush people dead to rights.

But it also seems that neither Stewart--nor Soderberg, for that matter--is any longer all that confident that Bush isn't actually a genius, instead. Relevant excerpts follow:

Soderberg: I think that there is also going on in the Middle East peace process--[the Bush administration] may well have a chance to do a historic deal with the Palestinians and the Israelis. These guys could really pull off a whole . . .

Stewart: This could be unbelievable!

Soderberg: . . . series of Nobel Peace Prizes here, which--it may well work. I think that, um, it's . . .

Stewart: [Burying his head in his hands.] Oh, my God! He's got, you know, here's . . .

Soderberg: It's scary for Democrats, I have to say.

Stewart: He's gonna be a great--pretty soon, Republicans are gonna be like, "Reagan was nothing compared to this guy." Like, my kid's gonna go to a high school named after him, I just know it.

Soderberg: Well, there's still Iran and North Korea, don't forget. There's hope for the rest of us.

Stewart: [Crossing his fingers.] Iran and North Korea, that's true, that is true.

Saddam's Two Favorite Countries

No surprises, here. Agence France Presse reports that Jordan-based lawyer Ziad Khassawneh--one of the defense attorneys who've been recruited to defend Saddam Hussein against prospective criminal prosecution by the new Iraqi government--made a good-will mission to Tokyo last week, during which he promised his hosts that Saddam will be "very happy" should Japan decide to withdraw its forces from the U.S.-led military coalition that deposed him.

Meantime, though, Saddam will remain happiest of all with two other, specific countries located somewhat further to the west.

"Saddam last met his defense counsel in December and conveyed his greetings to all 'free people' of the world 'and especially to France and Germany,' which were staunch opponents of the war that toppled him, Khassawneh said."

Comings and Goings

With this issue, The Weekly Standard is pleased to welcome aboard our new Books & Arts editor, Philip Terzian, whose occasional contributions have graced these pages since as far back as 1996, and whose multiple talents--developed over a long and distinguished career as a newspaperman and critic--we're now lucky enough to take advantage of full time. Mr. Terzian inherits his new command from Joseph Bottum, whose masterly guidance of our back pages over the past seven years we gratefully acknowledge. Mr. Bottum now leaves Washington, where we will miss him, for New York, where he will become editor of the journal First Things.

Next Page