In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States, political humor has virtually disappeared, replaced by patriotic platitudes. Deprived of their customary targets, late night TV talk show hosts are at their wits' end, struggling to find a new humorous voice that entertains without offending. So it's not surprising that Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart, and Bill Maher have sought comic relief in group therapy. Here's the transcript of their first joint therapy session, leaked to me by someone I'll simply call Deep Doc.
SHRINK: I'd like to go around the room and ask each of you to introduce yourself and tell us how you're feeling right now. Let's start with you, Mr. Leno.
LENO: Hi. I'm Jay and I'm feeling really depressed. I'm sorry. Am I allowed to say I'm depressed? I'm just kinda feeling my way here and....
MAHER: What a wuss!
SHRINK: That's not a very positive thing to say, Mr. Maher.
MAHER: That's just great! You're censoring me here too?
SHRINK: Not at all!
MAHER: Good, because if I get another lecture about losing those lousy Sears & FedEx ad dollars, I'm going to puke.
SHRINK: How do you feel about that?
MAHER: Hey, aren't we paying you big bucks to listen? I already told you: Puke. Puke. Puke. Puke!
SHRINK: Okaaaaaaaay. Mr. Letterman, you've been quiet so far. How are you feeling these days?
LETTERMAN: Quite good, actually.
LENO: Good? How can you feel good? And even if you do, I don't think you're allowed to admit it.
SHRINK: Being honest about your feelings is important, Mr. Leno. Go on, Mr. Letterman.
LETTERMAN: Well, for one thing, I get to yell as much as I want to now. I can do a 15-minute angry rant of a monologue and, not only isn't anyone mad at me, they appreciate my sincerity. Pretty damned cool, huh?
SHRINK: That's very interesting. Go on.
LETTERMAN: My blood pressure's dropped 40 points since those towers went down. Plus my cardiologist says venting all that anger is great for my heart.
MAHER: If that man gets any happier I'm going to throw something. And this time I'm not apologizing.
LETTERMAN: In the old days I'd be jumping out of my skin from a line like that, but hotheads like Maher don't even bother me anymore.
MAHER: You're the hothead!
SHRINK: Name-calling is inappropriate. Go on, Mr. Letterman.
LETTERMAN: And the best part is I can stop pretending to be ironic. That make-believe cynicism shtick was getting on my nerves.
SHRINK: I'm glad to hear you're coping so well. You set a wonderful example for your fellow talk show hosts.
MAHER: That's it. I'm leav....
SHRINK: Sit down, Mr. Maher. Otherwise, I'll tell your bosses at ABC that you aren't trying to get better. Okay, what about you, Mr. Stewart? You haven't said a word.
SHRINK: What was that?
SHRINK: I don't understand what you're.... Oh, I see what the problem is. Mr. Leno, could you do me a favor and remove Mr. Stewart's gag?
LENO: Are you sure it's okay?
SHRINK: Yes, of course it is. Go ahead and untie him.
STEWART: Mgghg.... Finally! What took you so long?
SHRINK: Sorry about that. How are you feeling, Mr. Stewart?
STEWART: How do you think I'm feeling? My career is over. Finito! Kaput!
SHRINK: Surely it's not as bad as all that.
STEWART: Are you kidding me? Oh, right -- now I remember. Kidding's on the no-no list. Along with any political satire that's worth a damn. Which is why my career is all washed up.
SHRINK: Can't you regroup? Find something else to talk about? Someone else to make fun of?
STEWART: What am I supposed to do? Stupid Clinton lech jokes? Make fun of Gore's beard?
STEWART: Sorry about that, Jay. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.
LENO: That's all right. We're still friends.
SHRINK: If you could say anything you wanted to on the air, Mr. Stewart, what would you be satirizing right now?
STEWART: For one thing, I'd be pointing out all the laws being rammed though Congress that are destroying the very freedoms we're trying to preserve.
MAHER: Good man!
STEWART: And how the government is hypocritically telling people not to discriminate based upon appearances, while they're doing exactly that.
O'BRIEN: Wow! That's heavy!
SHRINK: Surely it's possible to be funny and sensitive at the same time.
LENO: Did you hear that Gore spent the night with Bill Clinton? Now if Hillary buys that....
MAHER: Like I said -- Boring!
LENO: At least I'm giving one of my bikes away to charity, with a whole bunch of celebrity signa....
SHRINK: Mr. O'Brien, I almost forgot about you. How have you been coping during these troubled times?
O'BRIEN: I don't talk about my feelings. I'm from New England.
SHRINK: I understand. But if you could say anything you wanted to on the air, what would it be?
O'BRIEN: Andy, come back to me!
SHRINK: What about you, Mr. Leno?
LENO: Is this really confidential? Because if it isn't, I....
SHRINK: Let's move on to Mr. Letterman. What would an unfettered Mr. Letterman say right now?
LETTERMAN: Kill all the terrorists! And after that -- like the Mayor says -- go see a Broadway show.
SHRINK: Mr. Maher, no doubt you'd have something biting to say.
MAHER: You expect me to tell you how I feel about being led into a war we can't win by a spoiled, draft-dodging rich kid who never paid his dues? What, and lose more advertisers?
SHRINK: We're just about out of time. Any final thoughts from you, Mr. Stewart?