When it comes to comedy, the line between satire and misinformation can be a thin one.
For example, during an episode of "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central last week, host/writer/producer Stephen Colbert stayed squarely on the side of satire with his view of Mitt Romney's Mormonism, which led to a couple of jokes on the LDS Church's "I'm a Mormon" advertising campaign and a suggestion that God needs a similar campaign to bolster His sagging approval rating in a recent poll of Americans.
Irreverent? Perhaps. But good-natured. And funny.
Referring to the much-reported alleged Obama campaign strategy to lob personal attacks at Republican presidential front-runner Romney and his "weird" faith, Colbert said: "So Obama is going to use 'weird' as code for 'Mormon.' You know, I am really starting to respect that urban, rhythmic, socialist, Kenyan, secret Muslim.'"
Part of Colbert's schtick is his dark, perfectly combed hair with a neat part.
"Look at his hair!" Colbert continued during his bit on Romney, as a photo of the candidate's head was placed on the screen very close to the show host's head. "Dark, perfectly combed with a neat part. Nice hair, weirdo!"
"The weirdest thing about him is that weird religion of his," Colbert said, tongue firmly planted in his cheek. "Mormons believe Joseph Smith received golden plates from an angel on a hill, when everyone knows that Moses got stone tablets from a burning bush on a mountain."
Colbert also talked about the LDS Church's "I'm a Mormon" advertising campaign, and even showed a few clips from "I'm a Mormon" videos showing LDS members who surf, climb rocks and design and ride motorcycles. The campaign, he quipped, "makes Mormons irresistibly cool." And then he suggested that his own Catholic Church launch a similar ad campaign and offered up a sample video of a guy named Jason who was skateboarding, playing a frenzied electric guitar, falconing and exchanging a high-five with a tiger — simultaneously. The spoof ad ended with the super-imposed words: "In your face, Mormons!"
Yes, to some it might seem a little confrontational. Presented with Colbert's over-the-top comedic style, however, one gets the clear sense that it is all in fun.
Not so with Bill Maher, who was taken to task recently by Noel Sheppard at Newsbusters.org for his claim on MSNBC's "The Ed Show" that Mormonism is closer to Islam than it is to Christianity.
Although Maher's professional roots are in standup comedy and acting, he was clearly being interviewed as a political commentator (he hosts "Real Time with Bill Maher," a politically based comedy show on HBO) and not doing a comedy routine when he says that it is going to be interesting when (Texas governor and recently announced Republican presidential candidate) "Rick Perry ... starts putting out the idea — which is a true idea, by the way — that Mormons are not really Christians. You know, once America, which is a very Christian nation, finds that out, I think they'll have a, certainly in the evangelical part of the country, those folks, they will not be very fond of Mitt Romney."
Maher continues, suggesting that "Jesus Christ is, like, third" in the LDS hierarchy of worship, which he incorrectly insists is really "about Joseph Smith." Then he says: "Actually, Mormonism is closer to Islam because in Islam Jesus is also a revered figure. He's a wonderful prophet. He's just not the ultimate prophet. You know, he's like the middle act. He's certainly not the headliner."
Newsbusters' Sheppard uses information from the LDS Church website to refute Maher's claims, including this quote: "Mormons, for all the other things that set us apart, believe first and foremost that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. We believe that through Him, all mankind may enjoy eternal life with their families in Heavenly Father's kingdom (John 3:16)."
"Let's repeat that," Sheppard writes, then he repeats the first sentence above, then asks: "Seems pretty clear, doesn't it?"
He then quotes another section from lds.org, in which the name of the official name of the church is stressed, and then talks about the establishment of the LDS Church in the 1830s through Joseph Smith, "a prophet . . . like Moses and Abraham in Biblical times."
"Seem to you that this religion puts Jesus Christ 'third in the hierarchy' and is therefore closer to Islam than it is to Christianity?" Sheppard asks. "Or is this just another absurd line from a highly revered liberal comedian who rarely if ever knows what he is talking about?"