Nine years, two months and two days. It’s been that long since The Colbert Report aired it’s first episode on October 17th, 2005. Yes, it didn’t seem like that long ago that Stephen Colbert, fresh off his successful eight year run as a correspondent on The Daily Show, walked onto his stage for the first time to invent the word Truthiness, give Peter Mayhew a salute to his then newly acquired US citizenship with a Chewbacca action figure and have a “gravitas off “with then-Dateline host Stone Phillips. Now The Colbert Report has aired it’s final episode, giving Stephen the wings to move on and succeed David Letterman as the host of CBS’ The Late Show next summer. It’s nice to see Colbert moving up in the world of television, as he deserved to be rewarded for the raw natural talent he’s displayed not only on The Daily Show or The Colbert Report but also in his work on projects as varied as Strangers With Candy, The Venture Bros. and his books I Am America (And So Can You) & America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t. He really does deserve this position and I’ll gladly watch him, even if he is on CBS.
We aren’t saying goodbye to Stephen Colbert, the comedic talent who’s skills will continue to live on. No, instead we are saying goodbye to Stephen Colbert, the cartoonishly conservative character who has entertained us for so many years with his over the top right wing attitude. The Colbert who revealed The Wørd, presented his Tip of his Hat & Wag of his Finger, fought against himself as a Formidable Opponent, gave the Colbert Bump to everyone from Neil DeGrasse Tyson to Toby Keith, trotted out his Alpha Dog of the Week and made sure we Better Knew A District. This Colbert, initially conceived as a satire of ego driven, misinformation spreading Fox News pundits like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, managed to become something more. While still serving as a skewering talking head to the concept of these ultra conservative personalities on television, the Colbert character also managed to evolve into the ultimate satiric statement on what the 24 hour news cycle and politics in general had become; just plain silly.
True, The Report was always considered a comedy show and silliness naturally crosses into that territory, but Colbert’s brand of absurdity was all his own and that’s the brilliance of it. By cementing his silly personality onto this show that’s supposed to “spread the truth”, the Colbert character served as the ultimate parody of the opinionated and laughably frivolous nature of what television news and politics overall has turned into over the last decade, with Colbert the character examining the words of mainstream public figures from the most overly warped ultra-conservative perspective and performing giant publicity stunts on air that were always be ridiculously odd. Yet at the same time, Colbert the comedic talent managed to give Colbert the character this affable charm and endearing sense of honesty mixed in with that ego driven satire through sheer force of personality. This is clearly evident even in Colbert’s Christmas special A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All, which skewers old school Bing Crosby specials with his traditional and bizarre comedy styles that involves everything from a high Wise Man Willie Nelson to Elvis Costello being eaten by a bear, making it an annual watch every year for me. So when Colbert did something as self important as assuming the cheers of his audience are for him with every guest’s introduction or literally marry his hand, it served both as an inditement of the massive hubris of mainstream political figures and as just a hilarious good time.
In fact, that ability to just be as goofy as possible is a major part of why I personally fell for Colbert and even started to enjoy watching his show more than The Daily Show. Mind you, I still do enjoy Jon Stewart and his correspondents on that show and they do manage to let loose between their striking political commentary and be silly. Yet, Stephen Colbert never stopped the bizarre cartoonish sense of humor even when delivering the news. Hell, sometimes Colbert would drop the news angle in general and do something audaciously absurd, whether it be a full on fight between himself, Stewart & Conan O’Brien over who made Mike Huckabee a briefly popular presidential nominee, a “metaphor off” against Sean Penn, hugging adorable puppies with Tom Hanks, getting crushed by a vending machine while interviewing Matt Damon, challenging Korean pop star Rain to a dance battle, singing Somewhere Out There with Jimmy Fallon, interviewing Smaug the dragon himself or dancing with the likes of Bryan Cranston, Hugh Laurie, Jeff Bridges and Henry Kissinger himself to the tune of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” That lack of restraint Colbert had on his show made him an entity all his own in terms of late night television in oh so many ways, all the way to his final episode send off set to “We’ll Meet Again” with his celebrity friend chorus. The show ended as it should end; sincerely silly.
Of course, that brazen sense of self also resulted in some very ballsy moves on his part. Outside of his show, Colbert the character delivered a devastatingly biting inditement of then current Commander In Chief George W. Bush while standing a few feet away from him at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006, read his own sincerely written bill on immigration & social workers in character at a 2010 congressional hearing, went toe to toe with the man who inspired his entire persona on The O’Reilly Factor and hosted the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear with Jon Stewart right outside the National Mall in Washington D.C. Colbert’s commitment to the character was so admirable in situations like these, which makes the few moments where he breaks character all the more endearing. And I’m not just talking about whenever he laughed through a joke he flubbed either. There were rare occasions when Colbert pretty much dropped the act to be sincere, the most notable of which happened last year when he started his show by giving his recently deceased mother a eulogy. It’s a tender beautiful display of genuine emotion and one of the more touching moments in the history of the network known for airing South Park and Tosh.0.
Remembering Lorna Colbert
So, it is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to the double whammy of one of a kind that was The Colbert Report and the Stephen Colbert character. All the laughs, all the tears and all the irrational screaming over our Nation’s supposed greatest threat; BEARS. However, on a more personal note, I’m saying farewell to one of my biggest comedic influences. Since I was a middle schooler, The Colbert Report served as a major source for political satire that I used to watch on a daily basis. It made me question the media my elders consumed and presented politics for the preposterous goofy mess it is. I admittingly fell off of watching the show regularly as I grew older, but I always made sure to check in with the Report for at least a clip on a consistent basis, whether it be a notably foolhardy take on some modern problem in the news or a particularly engaging interview subject. I regret not watching more frequently, but I took The Report for granted, thinking it would always be there to lighten up dark days and give me hope in a world that was so cruel. But it won’t be there anymore. So, if this somehow manages to grace the eye of the real Stephen Colbert at some point, all I have to say is this; Mr. Colbert, thank you for all the good times. Good luck at CBS. I know I’ll be watching. And as for Stephen Colbert the character, all I have to say is this; Mr. Colbert, watch out for bears, keep eating that warehouse stockade full of Americone Dream ice cream and spread the word of Truthiness wherever you go so that everyone can have a better tomorrow, tomorrow. Stephen & Friends – “We’ll Meet Again”