Stephen Colbert does some of the smartest media criticism on television, but it's never better than when it's directed at his employers.
Colbert has made something of a cottage industry out of biting the hand that feeds him (last night he "promoted" sponsor Pepsi with the blurb "the official drink of 'We don't have Coke, is Pepsi OK?'"), but in his most recent show, he took on his colleagues. According to Colbert, MTV head Van Toffler nixed Daft Punk's much-publicized appearance on the show because his network had already booked the French electronica duo for the Video Music Awards.
This, by the way, was supposed to be a surprise, except that Colbert told everyone watching the show last night: "Apparently, and this is a deeply guarded secret—so, shhh—Daft Punk are going to make a surprise appearance on the MTV Video Music Awards. Spoiler alert—don't tell anybody because nobody told me until 2 o'clock yesterday."
MTV had no comment.
The decision, obviously, put Colbert in a bind—"Hyundai gave me a lot of money! A big check, which, funny story, I cashed"—which he thought he could get around by asking Daft Punk to play both shows, a plan Colbert said didn't go over well with Toffler. "I understand Flan Cobbler's predicament here," he said. "If Daft Punk were on my show, people wouldn't tune in to see them on the VMAs almost a month from now—that's how music works. You love a band, you see them once, and then you never want to see them again."
Anyway, the upshot is that it led to a much better segment than fans could have hoped: Colbert dancing to the band's "Get Lucky" and interrupting what appeared to be every show taping that day, including a rehearsal for the Rockettes, a booty-dancing stairway climb with Jeff Bridges, a long-distance boogie with Jon Stewart and a disco duet on roller skates with a plaid, neckerchiefed Bryan Cranston that is ... well, it's not to be missed.
And Colbert was even sporting enough to promote the VMAs anyway, just to show that there's no bad blood. "I'm gonna take the high road and urge you to watch Daft Punk on the VMAs, Sept. 27, on VH1, at 9 p.m., 4:30 Pacific, this year hosted by Chris Brown," Colbert told viewers. "Of course, Bruce Springsteen will be dueting with Jay-Z, performances will be by Maroon5, RoyBoy, Dork$ha, Baby's Breath, Amber Alert, Rottweiler featuring L'il Itl'ya, and a special performance by Paula Deen and the E*Trade baby. We'll be right back … with something."
Here that something is:
UPDATE: Yikes, for music reporters, the writers at Pitchfork don't listen very well. Colbert called out the site on Wednesday night for suggesting that the whole thing was an elaborate ruse on the basis that the timing was off. "So maybe it was the plan all along—an elaborate fake out to promote Daft Punk's appearance at the VMAs," wrote Evan Minsker. "But maybe Robin Thicke, his dancers, and his band were actually able to pull off an elaborate performance with only two hours' notice." Colbert, as you can see, said "two o'clock yesterday," not "two hours' notice."
Mea culpa, said Colbert. It was all an inter-network ploy, which, as we know, he loves. "What a load off! The guilt was killing me. Now that I've come clean, I can just relax and do what I love—promote the VMAs. Once again, the VMAs will appear on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Sept. 5 at 3 a.m. directly following the premiere of Hysterectomy Horrors with host Lou Diamond Phillips. Set your VCRs."