Fondling Stephen Colbert

I couldn't watch when Jane Fonda sat on his lap and caressed the talk show host. Am I a prude?

Published May 11, 2007 6:32PM (EDT)

Is it just me, or was there something deeply cringe-making in Jane Fonda's sit-down (or sit-on) with Stephen Colbert Wednesday night? Sorry I'm late to this, but I record "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" and watch them the next day (motherhood and early Salon deadlines have turned me into an early-to-bed person.) When I saw Wednesday's show Thursday night, I found the Fonda segment literally hard to watch, and I've been trying to figure out why.

I loved the segment with Fonda, Colbert and Gloria Steinem last year, in which they taught the faux-old-school host to bake an apple pie. He wore a "Kiss the Cook" apron, and Fonda obliged. The three were hilarious, and I liked the gentle spoof of antifeminists. Here were two feminist leaders who were funny, sexy -- and they can bake, too!

But Wednesday's return of Fonda (promoting "Georgia Rule") was anything but gentle. When Colbert sat down, the actress got up, walked over, sat herself in his lap and kissed him on the lips. She stayed planted on his lap and continued to kiss him as he tried to ask questions. I assume Colbert was in on the joke, but the whole thing was creepy. The normally impish host was flushing red, his laugh lines hardened with the tension. He made a joke about his wife and actually seemed embarrassed.

What's my problem? Was I jealous? (After all, I've declared my love for Colbert many times.) Ick, I don't think so. My issue with the segment is probably the problem I had with naming Colbert the "sexiest man living" last year: Behind his blustery Bill O' persona, the comedian seems almost shy, and also very decent, a husband and father who talks a lot about his family life. I felt brazen lusting after him last year, even in a piece that was a kind of spoof.

Am I a prude? Definitely not. I thought what Fonda did subtly and with humor in the pie-baking segment -- to show that feminists can flirt and be sexy, even at 60-plus -- she did crudely, almost desperately, in her appearance this week. Feminists, after all, can do more than flirt and be sexy, especially at 60-plus. After years of running from her "Barbarella" past, Fonda seems to have embraced it, which is fine -- but is the answer to stay Barbarella forever? I hope not.

I'm probably making too much of a few minutes on a satire news show, but I'm still cringing as I think about it this morning. Can anyone help make sense of my muddle?

By Joan Walsh

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