The Truthiness of THE COLBERT REPORT (Or, we’re really going to miss you, Stephen)

Courtesy Comedy Central

After eleven seasons and 1,447 episodes, The Colbert Report bows out tonight, and I couldn’t let that pass without writing a little tribute to one of late night’s funniest hosts.

(The fact that both Colbert and Craig Ferguson are giving their swan songs within a day of each other is totally unfair, Universe. But that is another post.)

As a faithful Daily Show viewer for far longer than I’d care to admit, I must confess that when they announced resident “conservative” pundit Colbert would be getting his own show nearly ten years ago, I was skeptical. (I know. I repent.) I couldn’t imagine how writers would manage to turn his hilarious five-minute bits into a full show. Would it be too much of a good thing? Like a Saturday Night Live sketch turned into a feature-length movie that makes you question all of your life choices that led you to the theater?

Obviously, I was wrong. And I’ve never been happier to be so.

As entertaining as Colbert was as Jon Stewart’s sidekick, unleashing him into his own half-hour show only let his zany flag fly higher. From the very first week, when he interviewed veteran news anchors like Stone Phillips or Lesley Stahl, we knew this wasn’t going to be your momma’s political satire. His aim might have been to send up right-leaning commentators and politicians, but no one was left unscathed, and he spoofed his guests in equal measure, no matter which end of the spectrum the found themselves on.

Yet, even in the depths of his comedy, what really endeared Colbert to me was his humanity. Obviously, Colbert the Character probably has as much in common with Colbert the Man as The Hulk has with his alter ego Mark Ruffalo, but even amidst his rapid-fire questioning and musings on “truthiness,” glimpses of his real self were never too far from the surface. He might have professed to be “Papa Bear” Bill O’Reilly’s biggest fan, but that doesn’t mean his supposed adulations didn’t gently poke fun at his idol’s public image, either. Sure, when he interviewed guests, there was always a vague hint of impending disaster — like feeling an earthquake was about to happen, but not really knowing when to take cover — but the beauty in it was that the very things that would make a real-life Colbert-style interview scary were the things that could put his guests at ease with chuckles.

The “serious” interviews with hysterically deadpan guests, as in some of the “Better Know A District” bits, always brought the laughs, especially when they pointed out the fallacies in his statements. However, when people were in on the joke, the segments catapulted into the stratosphere. Celebrities who could roll with the punches and give as good as they got brought out the best in Colbert, and the best in themselves, too. Then, if they managed to make Colbert break character? Well, I’m pretty sure every time that happened, an angel got its wings. Then floated down and gave Colbert more fodder for his sketches. He was entertaining as a mock defender of the right wing, but he was a delight as a guy who couldn’t keep up with the charade himself every once in a while.

Whether it’s interviewing unsuspecting politicians (or very suspecting ones, like President Obama), or feuding with The Decemberists, or racing on a bobsled with Team USA at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, or his Christmas specials duetting with the likes of Feist or Willie Nelson, there was nothing Stephen Colbert wasn’t game to try, and we the audience were the beneficiaries of his exploits. While his schtick could have put his targets off, the fact that he was in on it more often than not put them at ease, which is why time and time again, they returned to his desk and faced his wrath. His hilarious, pointed, yet gentle wrath.

Needless to say, I’m going to miss The Colbert Report. Along with The Daily Show (and The Late Late Show via DVR because being an adult precludes staying up until 1:37 every night), it was part of my daily routine, and was as comforting as a scalding cup of hot cocoa that maybe burned the roof of your mouth occasionally, but was all sweetness underneath. I’m sure in the coming days, there will be ample tributes on the internet to Colbert’s impact not only in the satire genre, but as an interviewer, period, because he often got to the truth of the matter with far greater ease than his traditional media counterparts thanks to his mission statement.

I can’t do that; I’m not nearly smart enough, or well-versed enough in politics and pop culture in general to analyze his act to that degree. (Point me to those pieces, though, and I’m so there.) I’m just a girl who loved being entertained by a nerdy guy in glasses with an eyebrow with a life of its own every night, and lived for the moments where he giggled or screamed in mock agony. He could cut through the crap most pundits could only dream of thanks to the conceit of his show, and in the process said a little something about all of us once in a while, too. He was our Greek chorus in times of turmoil, but don’t tell him that, because he would balk at being anything other than American-made.

While losing The Colbert Report is going to leave a hole in the late-night landscape, I am thrilled that Colbert the man is being recognized for his talents, and moving on to a bigger piece of the pie on network television. It remains to be seen just what incarnation of Colbert the Entertainer will emerge when he takes over from David Letterman as host of The Late Show on CBS next fall, but one thing I think we can all count on is that his graciousness and feisty spirit will dominate the scene.

In the meantime, we’re just going to have to rely on YouTube to relive our favorite moments of the last ten years of Colbert — the show and the man — and hope we don’t actually have to wait another nine months before seeing him again on our airwaves. Not even the hungriest of bears could withstand that.

And that’s The Word.


 

The Colbert Report airs its series finale tonight at 11pm on Comedy Central.

Nels

Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

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