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'Inside Comedy' review: Not quite cracking the joke

David Steinberg, left, and Jon Stewart in "Inside

David Steinberg, left, and Jon Stewart in "Inside Comedy" (Season 4, Episode 1). Credit: Showtime / Lauren Silberman

THE SHOW "Inside Comedy"

WHEN | WHERE Fourth-season premiere Tuesday night at 11 on Showtime

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Now here's a comedy conclave that could tell us something. Guests Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are at the top of today's satire game, smart, likable, incisive. Energetic host David Steinberg helped pave their path. After dabbling in rabbinical studies, Steinberg helped launch improv's Second City breeding ground, then became a standup amid a famed '60s censorship war on TV's topical Smothers Brothers show.

Steinberg chats with Stewart and Colbert in separate sit-downs, edited into a back-and-forth. Stewart remembers coming up in a Greenwich Village scene that included Louis C.K. and Ray Romano, while Colbert extols his own Second City experience, loving improv for "being a vehicle but not necessarily responsible for what's about to happen." Stewart hints at leaving his "Daily Show" perch (this January chat preceded his exit announcement), and Colbert addresses his transition from "Colbert Report" to David Letterman's chair later this year. Each discusses stirring controversy and taking the heat.

MY SAY And it all takes place in 29 minutes. Which, despite zipping by, feels a kind of a drag. Steinberg also directs "Inside Comedy," as he has hundreds of sitcom episodes, from "Newhart" to "Seinfeld" to "Curb Your Enthusiasm." In that genre, you edit tight, to hit the joke and run, and Steinberg's comedy chats for Showtime suffer for the same. He gives Stewart and Colbert some great laugh lines, and shows classic clips -- Colbert's "truthiness" rant, his "Dana Carvey Show" sketch with Steve Carell as waiters nauseated by food.

But maybe LOL shouldn't be the aim if the idea is to get truly "inside" comedy. What's most intriguing here is deconstructing the process, when Stewart outlines the surprisingly demanding "skill set" needed by "Daily Show" correspondents (with supporting clips), when Colbert clarifies how their shows are only "curating the news" to the point of setting up "the joke you wish to tell." We get the joke, all right. But we'd love more comedy curation insight.


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