Stephen Colbert – The Man Behind The Mirth

Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

After nine years it’s time to say goodbye to The Colbert Report, and of course the show’s namesake, host Stephen Colbert. Nonetheless I don’t want to talk about the man himself directly, rather, the Stephen Colbert character.

Originally appearing as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert (the character) has always been a misinformed, unaware patriot who neatly packages narcissism and self-importance into his French pronounced name. But getting his own program, and following the popular Daily Show was always going to be a challenge. The Daily Show is a beacon for political and media satire, with the Pew Research Centre reporting that a quarter of 18-29 year old males rely on it as their primary news source, while three quarters of men online who get their news from Colbert also get it from The Daily Show.

However like any new program, The Colbert Report needed time to find its feet, as did Stephen Colbert (the character). Taking aim at right wing Fox News-style pundits and not only pointing out the ridiculousness but also over amplifying the serious approach that many of those shows take. Their fear-based agenda makes it easier for satire-based comedy programs to poke holes and gave Colbert a new angle that maintained his relevance during six years of Democratic presidency

The show initially began as a right win pundit style program before evolving into a much more rounded comedy/news program. Taking on bigger stories, on air campaigns and pushing the Stephen character as far as they could.

The Stephen Colbert character has become one of the most loved on television. He’s a joy to watch and a challenge to play. The real Stephen Colbert has even said that when ad-libbing in character, he must put his thoughts through two filters, ‘what do I think about this?’ And ‘what does my character think about this?’

The comedy primarily comes from the character’s deluded view on the world; the hypocrisy, absurdity, contradictions and ridiculousness. It’s like there’s a joke that he’s not in on. Saying that, the show is brilliantly backed up by solid gags, one-liners and some of the best word play on television.

My favourite is – “Mark my words…seriously, Mark, I need my words.”

The show doesn’t get enough credit for its invention. It’s always had great out-of-studio pieces and most seasons feature grand arcs – like ‘StePhest Colbchella ‘012 RocktAugustFest’, which was basically a music festival. There was also Stephen’s Super PAC – Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Taking the character as far as they could, even releasing his own book ‘I Am America (And So Can You!). It’s shows ability to take the news and inject itself into it that will go down as one of its trademarks.

His influence also grew throughout the political/news world, with visits from Obama, appearances on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox program (in character) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel even telling freshmen Congressmen not to accept invitations to appear on The Colbert Report segment “Better Know a District”, in which Stephen conducted one on one interviews with members of government. However his greatest political achievement might be his performance at the White House Correspondence Dinner in 2006, the strange and awkward mood in the room can be felt over YouTube, like there was an impostor in the room that night and he just happened to also have the microphone.

The show wasn’t scared of taking risks either; to promote the recent Hobbit film he interviewed the computer generated dragon, Smaug. It’s an amazing piece of television, watch it if you haven’t seen it. The amount of planning and background work that goes into creating something like that is extraordinary. From creating the dragon and his specific movements, to matching Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice, making the graphics fit within the studio environment and Stephen having to time his interview with those built graphics. The number of people he thanked in the ‘credits’ afterwards proves it.

The Colbert Report can’t be summed up here, we can only capture a glimpse. I haven’t even mentioned his on-going bear phobia or the fact he came up with the 2005 Word of the Year, Truthiness, which now appears in the Oxford Dictionary. Upon reflection of the final here’s a few celebrity quotes –

“It was art” – James Franco

“It took prodigious brilliance to pull it off” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

“The show had its rules, but they would bend and break them all the time” – JJ Abrams

“Colbert demonstrated that agreeing with them (right wing pundits) — or pretending to agree with them — was the deadliest way to satirize them” Dan Savage

Stephen Colbert will be greatly missed, because after all that’s mentioned above, there was nothing more entertaining than seeing him on the verge of breaking character, and that Stephen Colbert, we get to see in next year, when he takes over Letterman’s Late Show. Till then.