Paper 3 Draft: A Modern Day Aristotle

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Lindsey Rae Evans

English 015

Dr. Jessica O’Hara

24 March 2014

A Modern Day Aristotle

For years comedians have included satire within their performances to poke fun at societal behavior.  One comedian, though, stands above the rest in this matter.  With his show The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert relies upon satire alone to entertain his audience.  From stories about gay rights to the government budget, Colbert’s witty sense of humor paired with a satirical political news show make him a legend of rhetoric.  One piece in particular, titled “Sarah Palin Uses a Hand-O-Prompter,” shows off many of Colbert’s talents at once.  As suggested from the title, the piece hilariously criticizes Sarah Palin and her political agenda.  Throughout the five minute clip, Colbert uses several rhetorical figures and a logical fallacy to make his point known.  He touches upon American commonplaces to capture his audience.  He even uses satire to explain the meaning of satire!  Without a doubt this example of Stephen Colbert’s work displays excellent use of satiric rebuttal and is worth an extensive rhetorical analysis.

In “Sarah Palin Uses a Hand-O-Prompter,” Stephen Colbert pulls out several rhetorical figures and even a logical fallacy during his coverage of the story.  In the very beginning of the piece when Colbert is discussing Sarah Palin’s recent speech at a Tea Party Convention, he uses the figure of speech which author Jay Heinrichs calls “[twisting] a cliché” (218) in his book Thank You for Arguing.  Colbert adapts the well-known phrase “No taxation without representation” to ridicule the Tea Party Convention’s profit gain by adding the words “But there is a two drink minimum” to the end.  Not only does the use humor make the scenario memorable,

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but it also uses popular belief to show the hypocriticalness of the Tea Party’s actions.  Colbert continues his story by combining another figure with a logical fallacy.  During her speech, Sarah Palin ridiculed President Obama for his use of a teleprompter while she herself wrote notes on her hand to remember key points.  Colbert uses what Heinrichs calls the figure of “[inventing] new words]” (219) when he refers to Sarah Palin’s use of a “hand-o-prompter” to win favor with the audience.  At the same time, Colbert applies the logical fallacy of a false comparison (specifically reductio ad absurdum) when he shows the audience that he has labeled his thumb “thumb” in marker to remind him that it is there.  Though in Thank You for Arguing Heinrichs refers to logical fallacies specifically as “sins,” (145) Colbert uses what would normally be considered bad logic to actually prove that his is sound.  By pretending to agree with Sarah Palin’s points through absurd reasoning, Colbert is using Palin’s own actions to display their absurdity.  Again, through humor, Colbert shows the hypocrisy in Palin’s argument without stating it directly.

Like any good rhetorician, Stephen Colbert also draws upon his audience’s commonplaces to help gain their favor and drive home his point.  For example, though Stephen Colbert pretends to be the rightmost of all Republicans, the show is essentially geared towards a Democratic audience.  He uses satire to deliver what is actually a “fake” newscast in the sense that the views he expresses are often the opposite of what he believes.  The show, therefore, often criticizes Republican spokespersons- such as Sarah Palin and later Rush Limbaugh- and defends leaders of the Democratic party- such as Barrack Obama.  Colbert incorporates the Democratic viewers’ image of Sarah Palin as a poor and even unintelligent diplomat into his speech to win the audience over to his side of the argument.  By insulting Sarah Palin’s skills in politics, Colbert is subtly ingratiating himself into the collective by applying the identity strategy.  By shunning those who see Sarah Palin as a great leader from the rest of the group,

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Colbert actually brings his fans closer in a kind of tribal unification.  Colbert is a master of irony, which Heinrichs defines as “saying one thing to outsiders with a meaning only revealed to your group” (237).  While Colbert’s utter mockery of Sarah Palin is hard to miss, fans of the show feel a kind of unconscious connection to the words because they “get” the true message.  Overall, this coinciding of values makes the audience form a common identity, thus making viewers more susceptible to Colbert’s persuasion tactics.

However, despite all of the rhetorical strategies Stephen Colbert incorporates into his piece “Sarah Palin Uses a Hand-O-Prompter,” no greater satiric genius is displayed than through his explanation of satire through satire.  Towards the end of Colbert’s report, he discusses Sarah Palin’s call for the resignation of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel after he called liberal Democrats “f-ing retarded.”  At the same time, however, Palin defended right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh after his use of the same words in what she refers to as “satire.”  Upon watching the clip of Limbaugh, it can clearly be seen that the language was not used in such a way, yet Palin continuously demanded that Limbaugh’s words are being taken out of context.  In a stroke of rhetorical genius, Colbert uses Palin’s own words against her by taking them literally, and thus reducing her argument to absurdity.  Colbert explains to the audience in his false Republican guise that Sarah Palin has the acute sense of hearing to pick up on Limbaugh’s extremely subtle distinction before repeating the clip of Limbaugh to allow the audience to see the complete lack of such a comparison.  Colbert states that he agrees with Sarah Palin in that it is okay to call someone a “retard” as long as you do not mean it.  To finalize his point, Colbert says that true backers of Sarah Palin should all show their support and say proudly that “Sarah Palin is an f-ing retard.”  This ingenious form of insult solidifies Stephen Colbert’s rhetorical superiority over Palin, capturing the full support of his audience.

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Overall, it is clear that Colbert’s rebuttal of Sarah Palin was a success- at least in the eyes of his targeted audience.  Colbert’s skilled inclusion of rhetorical figures and his logical fallacy display not only his sophisticated wit- which make the statements memorable- but also his superb rhetoric ability- which make them logical.  The comedian’s appeal to his viewers through value commonplaces brings the speaker and listeners to a closer, more personal level of understanding.  This not only solidifies trust in Colbert, but also gives viewers a sense of group belonging, making them more inclined to persuasion.  Furthermore, Colbert’s explanation of satire through the use of satire displays his extensive understanding of the workings of rhetoric, eliminating any doubt of his argument’s credibility.  Each of these strategies, paired with Colbert’s near perfect delivery of the information, makes the report agreeable to viewers and leaves them sufficiently persuaded.  In today’s world where rhetoric has become the lost art of the ancients, Stephen Colbert is bridging the gap and will without a doubt be remembered as one of the great rhetoricians of the 21st century.

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Works Cited

Heinrichs, Jay. Thank You for Arguing. London: Penguin, 2008. Print.

“Sarah Palin Uses a Hand-O-Prompter.” The Colbert Report. Colbert Nation, 9 Feb. 2010. Web. 23 Mar. 2014. <>.

2 thoughts on “Paper 3 Draft: A Modern Day Aristotle”

  1. 1. Where does the writer introduce and summarize the arguments he or she will rebut? Share ideas on arrangement and effectiveness.

    – She states her thesis in her opening paragraph. It is clear that she will be analyzing how Colbert uses his rhetorical devices to satirize Sarah Palin and her political agenda. Nonetheless, it could be more clear the argument she believes Colbert is trying to make through satire.

    – The overall structure of the piece is a bit confusing with the line breaks with “Evans #”. I’m guessing this is just a formatting issue.

    2 . What is the common ground or concession(s) this writer offers? Offer suggestions for improvement.

    – In analyzing Colbert’s work, she recognizes that Colbert recognizes many commonplaces and concedes to others points in order to use their argument against them. For example, she notes that Colbert concedes to Palin’s flawed argument in order to reduce “her argument to absurdity.”

    – No suggestions as of now. Good work!

    3. Comment on the effectiveness of the line(s) of argument. Offer at least two suggestions to strengthen the argument.

    – They were effective ( they were): crisp, to the point statements.

    4. How does the writer’s outside sources enhance his or her position? Make some suggestions for additional resources.

    – She uses Jay Heinrich’s Thank You For Arguing to identify the numerous rhetorical devices implemented by Colbert.

    – It might be helpful to find a resource that focuses on rhetorical devices used in the comedic setting. I am not sure where to find such a resource, but having a resource additional to Heinrich’s might enhance the overall nature of the piece, making it more well rounded.

    5. Comment on what is successful about the paper and make three overall suggestions for improvement.

    – She has a conclusion that wraps up/re-states the thesis for emphasis.
    – For reasons of redundancy and grammar, it may be best to remove the transition word “However” in the second to last paragraph.

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