Thursday, October 17, 2013

At the Waldorf, "Catholic Thanksgiving" – On the Night That Smith Built, Dolan and Colbert's Round Two

In an exceptional return of the favor he gave last month – namely, sharing one of TV's most coveted audiences with the USCCB President and Cardinal-Archbishop of New York – tonight saw Stephen Colbert flank Tim Dolan on the dais of the Waldorf-Astoria as the Comedy Central icon stepped into American Catholicism's most legendary speaking slot... at least, the sole Big Turn allowed the laity: the keynote address of the Al Smith Dinner.

Marking this Third Thursday of October's 68th annual tribute to the first American Catholic to be nominated for the Presidency, a top-shelf fundraiser for Gotham's mother-chapter of Catholic Charities – and, for a half-century, an all-around institution of American political culture – the choice of an actual comic (however famously devout) to headline the white-tie, big-money jokefest was a considerable departure from the long line of statesmen, journalists or titans of industry tasked with the talk in the "off years" when both Presidential nominees aren't in attendance for what's traditionally become their lone joint appearance beyond the debates. 

Then again, in these final days of a three-year stewardship of the Stateside Bench which has brought epochal rounds of triumph and turbulence alike, as The Tim prepares to depart the Mothership's hot seat and return to his cherished spot at the back of the Floor – in Dolan-logic, a place close by both the coffee and the can – His Eminence's remarkably simpatico tag-team with the Charleston-bred improv guy who, for the first time, swept this year's Emmys for late-night comedy has made for an especially fitting high note on which to go out... and, arguably, a note that only the last student of John Tracy Ellis ever could've hit.

Amid the very new and different circumstance of a Vatican keen to carve out a more substantive role for episcopal conferences than they've ever known – for the first time, remember, a onetime Bench-chief is now The Pope – the next USCCB president and vice-president will be elected at the body's Fall Plenary in Baltimore, which opens on November 11th. Should precedent hold, the ten-man slate of contenders will be revealed by month's end.

For now, much as the evening's keynoter embarrassingly bungled his pronunciation of terms like "chasuble" and "Humanae Vitae" – all while re-declaring himself "America's Most Famous Catholic" – here's fullaudio of Colbert's raucous witness and Dolan's atypical straight-man close before the Midtown power crowd, all of which aired live over SiriusXM Radio's The Catholic Channel, the 1011-run satellite outlet whose lineup is led by the cardinal's live weekly call-in show....

Especially given all the "expertise"-that-isn't which suddenly abounds these days, as context goes, it bears reminding that, from his first Smith Dinner as a cardinal (fullvid), Dolan had already ditched the custom of his predecessors by not donning the scarlet ferriaolo on the dais, even with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both at his side, and the international press corps swarming all around.

All that said, at the heart of things, it was announced at the night's start that the dinner had raised over $3 million for the Big Apple's Catholic Charities – the dinner's biggest draw ever for an Al Smith at which the White House wasn't at stake.