As promised, here are Parts I and II of an interview conducted by the webmaster of No Fact Zone, DB Ferguson, with the star of the Comedy Central show ‘The Colbert Report’, Stephen Colbert. The first part of the interview was conducted on Tuesday, May 17th, and the second part on Thursday, May 19th.
(Photo Credit – Mark Malkoff, backstage at the Colbert Report, October 20, 2008)
Part I (5/17/2011)
DB: You spoke with Terry Gross a while ago about being an altar boy at midnight mass, and “that guy” has said he that was an altar boy for 11 years, and I’m just curious if you, the real Stephen, were actually an altar boy for that long?
SC: Yes I was. I started as an altar boy in 2nd grade, I was 7 years old. And I was pretty steadily an altar boy until my sophomore year. I think my junior and senior year I still served on the altar, just not quite as regularly. You know, I’d got seniority, I got to pick the mass I wanted to serve, and if there were weddings and funerals, which was the way you made money, I got first choice. And I served with all the same guys for years and years and years. But yeah, I was an altar boy for 11 years.
DB: I’m guessing with your age, you were an altar boy during that odd period of Vatican II, so were you a alb and cincture and English speaking guy, or were you a cassock and surplice with a little Latin? What was the culture that was happening during that time?
SC: It was very “guitar mass”. It was a Southern parish, so it wasn’t that hip and happening, but we did have [sings in peppy tune] “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name”. We did sort of that kind of folk-massy kind of time. With the folk mass Our Father, occasionally interpretive dance on the altar, that kind of thing. And I really wanted to wear the black cassock with the white surplice over it because, first of all, you look like a mini-priest when you’ve got the cassock on. And the surplice was just cool, it was very Vienna Boys Choir. I actually wanted to wear the red cassock, but we rarely did that, that was only for certain High Masses, like midnight mass, or if the Bishop was there, and he asked for a specific look. But mostly we just stood in the white robes, they were like white monk robes, with hoods that we never put up. And a rope around your waist. That’s how we did it.
DB: You said that when you were at Northwestern you were all broody and serious, and you had the beard, and you did the artsy thing, and you were doing all these really dramatic shows. What’s the most dramatic, bizarre piece of theater that you did back in those goth days of yours?
SC: Well, there was a piece of theatre and then there was scene work in class, which is different – you’re doing a chunk of a play. You’re doing pieces from the Haemon/Creon scene from Greek tragedy, or doing scenes from “Fool for Love” by Sam Shepherd.
I remember not being able to sort of get the relationship with the girl in Fool for Love, and my teacher telling me – there’s a scene in which she knees him in the groin, and I fell down to my knees, and she goes “I’m not buying it, I’m not buying it” like “You’re not really in pain”. And she goes “Try it again”. I was on all fours at this point, and my teacher said to the girl I was doing this scene with, who was a dance major, she said “Kick him again.” She meant “stage-kick him”, not actually kick him. But this girl, who had legs like oak, kicked me so hard that she flipped me. And my ribs still don’t stick out as much on one side as the other, from where she kicked me. That’s not pretentious, as it was a dramatic moment for me, and the lengths to which you would go to try to get the scene right.
Out of college, I did more black box, Avant-garde theatre than I did when I was in college, because I was learning the basics. In college I was studying Shakespeare, and studying Shaw, and studying Harold Pinter. Both the great masters and contemporary artists, and I myself was being very brooding and very pretentious. The work wasn’t as pretentious as I was. I was out-pretentiousing the things around me. I had to, you know, I had to win at being pretentious, being competitive on every level. I wore a lot of black, and I had a beard, and I was sort of actively, radioactively miserable at people.
DB: One of my favorite YouTube videos ever is this piece that you did for the final show of Stella, where it’s you and Paul Dinello, and you’re singing “Devil Went Down to Georgia”
SC: On the bassoons, yeah.
DB: Where did you come up with the idea, we’re going to do this with bassoons – but more importantly, how did you find someone who was willing to lend you $10,000 worth of musical instruments for this comedy bit?
SC: We rented them. For that one bit that night. I couldn’t believe how expensive they were. It was $250 for one night, plus an insurance bond which you got back. But $250, I had no idea bassoons were that valuable. And we certainly weren’t that gentle with them.
But that came about because Dinello and I, we still work together at the show, but we were writing partners for many years. I’ve known him for 23 years now. He was my best man at my wedding, and he’s a wonderful guy. You know, you may have heard me say in interviews before that I like getting in trouble. And you get in trouble, and once you’re in trouble, boy that really makes you come up with a good idea. Or at least “an” idea. Because sometimes the best idea is just the one that exists. And Dinello is a firm believer in that. He turned me on to Ernie Kovack’s famous quotation, which was – I’m paraphrasing – “every good idea I ever had was because it was 3:15 and I had a 3:30 production meeting.”
So Dinello would always call me up and say “Hey, do you want to Stella?” Or “Do you want to do Largo?” out in LA, we would go up to a place called Largo when we were out there. And there was another place – Luna? I think there was a place in New York called Luna Lounge that did it. And so I would say “Oh sure, when are we going up?” And he would say “Tonight”, and I would say “God, Paul, not again! What are we going to do?” And he would say “I don’t know, let’s get together” – and we were both gainfully unemployed – “let’s get together and do something.” And I would say [pleading] “No, let’s just do something we know how to do. It won’t be anything we’ve done at Stella, or Largo. I just can’t come up with something new in the next 3 hours.” And he’d say “Come on, we’re professional comedy writers. If we can’t come up with 5 minutes of material in 3 hours, we don’t deserve to call ourselves that.” And I would say “Yeah, you’re right.”
So we would go to his apartment, and we would have a couple of beers, and we would talk. And that night, we had been fooling around with the fact that he and I were both poor guitar players, and how hard it would be for us to do “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on guitar. So we had been working on something before and he said “I’ve got it!” And I came over to his house, and when I got there he had two bassoons, and I went “That’s fantastic!” And neither of us had any idea how hard it was to play a bassoon. It is nigh-on impossible to get even a honk out of it. Any sound at all. It’s impossible. Is that called a double reed? [DB: Yes, that’s a double-reed.] And we just said, let’s go in there and sell it with style. Let’s just do it as if we’re playing them great. And we just told the band don’t play until the last chorus. And we said make a huge production out of it.
I’ve always wanted to do it again, like for a benefit. The very first year that I was going to do Night of Too Many Stars, with Robert Smigel, I was going to do that with Paul. And then for some reason Paul couldn’t do it, so I ended up doing a Gravitas-off with Stone Phillips, which was the first time he and I did that before we did it on the show. Anyway, that’s how that came about. It was just joyful “Yes, and”-ing, and just acting like we knew what we were doing, that’s how it came about. And $250 for a bit that lasted 5 minutes.
DB: The ‘Ambiguously Gay Duo’ thing you did on SNL last week? How did this come about, where they got you and Steve Carrell to do this live action ‘Ambiguously Gay Duo’?
SC: The magic of Robert Smigel. I said yes because I really like working with Robert. Robert gave me my break at the “[Dana] Carvey Show”, so I’m always grateful to him, if I can ever work it out I’ll do it with him, whatever it is. It’s always fun, and I’ll always be grateful to him. I assume Steve feels the same way, I didn’t talk with him about how he got Steve there. Steve’s got a little more free time on his hands because he’s just left ‘The Office’, I suppose. In the summer before my show started, in 2005, Robert and I completed a movie version of ‘Ambiguously Gay Duo’. We wrote a live action version of ‘Ambiguously Gay Duo’, which is out there someplace. You could look at the SNL thing as a teaser trailer, because there are jokes from the movie in there. That’s a little bit of the movie, on Saturday Night Live. So we said “Oh we want to do it.” John Hamm’s into it. I didn’t know that Jimmy was going to be Gary, I thought he did a great job. John Hamm, that’s perfect for Ace. And so he said, would you and Steve be Big Head and Brainio? And I said “I’d love to be Brainio, since I came up with the character, I’m thrilled.”
DB: The Colbert Christmas album – was it successful enough that there might be consideration to do another album featuring your singing?
SC: Yes, it absolutely is. It took over a year to put together, though. It’s kind of like the book. The book took a year to put together, the album took a year to put together, Iraq took a year to put together. All these tent posts that look like “Oh you did a week” – or “this was a special event” took a great deal of time and effort for dozens and dozens of people working together to make them happen. So, I’d love to do another, but I don’t know when that would happen. But it was a tremendous experience. It was incredibly joyful, I’m so lucky that those artists wanted to do it with me. I just wanted to do it, to begin with, it was so in keeping with my character, who was a Christmas originalist, and felt that Christmas was under attack, and it validated his idea of bears being dangerous, and also his idea that he had all these friends who would come over and sing with him. It captured a simpler time of an Andy Williams special. And on top of it, I got to win a Grammy. It adds to the legendarium of the character’s own ego. It couldn’t have been a more joyful experience.
I also had the worst cold of my entire life when I recorded it. If you listen, you can hear that I have a hideous cold for the entire thing. Could not breathe at all. Absolutely a cartoonish cold, [with stuffed up accent] “like I’d dalk like dis dee endire dime”. I had to record it a week before we did the Christmas special, because it had to be ready for when we did the Christmas special. Sick as a dog. *Sick* as a dog.
DB: I know you’ve got another book that’s coming out in 2012. Other than signing the contract, and blowing the advance, what kind of work have you done with the book?
SC: But the book is in keeping with the format of the show, the same way the first book was in keeping with the format of the show. Imagine those concerns that motivated the content of that book – those have shifted in the last 5 years, in terms of what gets politically debated hotly. It’s the same idea, but it’s – I don’t really want to say anything more than that, because we’ve just started working on it and if I tell you what it is now, it may actually not be that by the time we’re done. What we started with in 2006 was not what that book was in 2007. We wrote almost two more books of material in 2006 that never made it into the book in 2007. I have just giant, thick binders of material that we just burned. We had a whole other book called “The 50 States That Are Destroying America”. Never made it.
DB: You’ve mentioned in interviews that when you ran in the 2007 presidential election in South Carolina as a favorite son, that you got so close to the process that you were touching it.
SC: Well, yeah, you get that close to politics, it gets on you.
DB: Now this political season, you’ve started with the Super PAC. How is this process feeling different than in 2007 when you were jumping through the hoops with the South Carolina Democratic National Committee?
SC: Well I’m doing what I’m doing now, which is related but different than that. It’ll be substantially different in what we end up doing, because I think you can only do that other thing once.
When we did that back then, you had to kind of believe what you’re doing. Because it took a great deal of effort, and even though – I remember at the time people were asking me “Are you really filing to be on the ballot, or is this a joke?” And I said “It wouldn’t be a joke if it wasn’t real.” We throw ourselves into the pond of the news, and then we report on our own ripples. We are like the news. We’re not just like news reporters, we’re like news makers. We won the Peabody for that back in 2007, and the difference as I described it then was that Jon shoots spitballs from the back of the room, that’s how Jon likes to describe it. We like to make ourselves the spitball.
And we sort of had to inhabit it in a real way, we had to go through the motions of doing all the things you need to do to try to get on the ballot. I went down to South Carolina, I campaigned, I had to come up with speeches. I had to invest it with some sort of actorly sincerity, and I found at the end of it that I was kind of heartbroken that I couldn’t even run. You know, everybody gets to run for President, except me, evidently. That’s part of the American dream, that anybody can grow up and run for President. Not you, Stephen Colbert. Not you. The network was worried, and lawyers were worried, and I said “Guys, they’re never going to let me do it, so don’t worry about it.” And sure enough, it only lasted 13 days. 13 days after I started, it was over. And then we’re done. And I said Okay, everybody can climb down out of their tree now. I told ya. The odd thing is that the very next day, the strike started. So I had way bigger problems to deal with, and I didn’t have to explain myself, which is nice.
Part II (5/19/2011)
DB: Being a fan of fandoms myself, one of my very favorite segments ever of The Daily Show is the one that Viggo Mortenson was on, and Jon Stewart played that audio of you talking about Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and just going on and on about Lord of the Rings stuff.
SC: And when he was younger, he was Thorongil, yeah.
DB: So my question to you is, since you’ve been doing The Colbert Report, have you met anybody, had any guests, or met somebody at a fundraiser, that just turns you into that kind of a fanboy, the Oh my gosh I can’t believe I’m meeting you kind of a person?
SC: Oh, so many. I mean, tonight I have Lithgow on the show, John Lithgow. Meryl Streep… The first time I met Neil deGrasse Tyson, actually. I mean, Neil’s become a friend now, but the first time I met Neil I was kind of starstruck. Almost all the musicians. Almost all the musicians am I starstruck by, I’m overawed by what they do, I’m incredibly moved by it. Meeting Tony Bennett, Randy Newman, R.E.M., Elvis Costello. Paul Simon, I got to sing with Paul Simon, I got to sing “The Sound of Silence” with Paul Simon. I mean, I freaked out after doing that.
DB: And there was a rumor that there was a video somewhere, and that for whatever reason they couldn’t get it on the air. There was like a 7 second clip you played once, and everybody went “Aaaah”!
SC: I did Sounds of Silence with him, I did ‘Carolina on my Mind’ with James Taylor. I’ve done several songs with musicians that have never been broadcast. I did John Prine’s ‘How Lucky Can One Man Get’ with Elvis Costello. I’ve done a lot of fun stuff that hasn’t made it to air yet. We just do it for fun, because the guest was having fun, and we said Oh let’s try something else. I’ve sung the national anthem with a lot of my musical guests. We just don’t know when to show it.
DB: Your musical guests seem to be different than your regular guests. I think it’s Emily [Lazar] that books your regular guests, but it seems like the musical guests you have are really personal choice. Is that just the way those come off on the show, or is that actually what happens, do you go ‘Oh hey, I love this “Eff You” song, let’s get Cee Lo on, let’s give him a call and see if he’ll show up.’
SC: Well, yeah, Cee Lo. I saw the F*** You video, and I immediately called Emily and go ‘We’ve got to have this guy on, we’ve got to have Cee Lo on’. And this was way way before it came out, and they said ‘Well the song’s out now, the album’s not coming out til later, he’ll come out after the album’s out’. I was just so thrilled. Or like Lisa Hannigan – I just saw Lisa Hannigan online, and I thought ‘Who is this? She’s fantastic.’ And I said See if she’s ever going to be in the United States, I’d love to have her on. She had a tour coming up so she said sure. Or Movits!, of course, is the ultimate example of that. Because I saw them on Reddit, people said ‘You’ve got to check this out, it’s Swedish hip hop jazz, swing jazz.’ I watched it and went ‘This is amazing! I love this, see if we can get them over here.’ So I think we actually brought them over from Sweden, I’m not sure. I know they ended up signing a deal with Comedy Central Records, so I know that we’re financially involved with them, or business involved – not me, the network is.
And then there are other times that I get turned on to people, like I remember I was going down when the strike hit in November – which is where we left off when we were talking the last time – in November of 2007, we had just run for President and the strike hit, and I thought ‘Well what can I do? I can’t write anything.’ As they say, pencils down means pencils down. And so I said to my writers, and I said to the people on the staff, I said Listen, I’m going to try to do this in a way that is honorable. You can just unplug my computer. I’m never going to touch it, we’re done. I’m not going to touch Associated Press, which is our program, I’m not going to use any of our script programs. We’re done, we’ll just have conversations, and then I’ll try to remember what we said. The only piece of paper I ever had was an elements list at my desk. Like what was going to be on the show that night, what the videos were going to be. And then I just talked in between those things. But during that period of time, it was incredibly pressure filled, and I was worried how we could keep everybody employed and everything. One of my producers came to me with Mountain Goats and said ‘Hey, I think you’d really like this album, The Sunset Tree.’ And the first song I heard off of it was “I’m going to make it through this year if it kills me.” And I listened to that song every day for the 100 days of the strike.
DB: Wow, was it really that long?
SC: Yeah, it was 100 days. I listened to it every day. So that band was brought to me. A lot of bands – TV on the Radio was brought to me. Who else was I introduced to, and just fell in love with…?
DB: How did you get introduced to John Legend, because I’m a huge fan of his now. I can’t remember if I blogged this or not, but I was sitting there in the media tent at the Rally to Restore Sanity, and all of a sudden they say “… and John Legend” And I went “JOHN LEGEND?!” and I went running out to look. It was very cool that he was at the Rally. Anyway, how did you get introduced to him?
SC: I knew he’d done the Obama video, I had heard the “Yes We Can.” I had listened to that video because it was sort of a news item. And I was listening to the whole thing, and I went … Who is that guy? Like I would hear him singing and I’d go ‘I’ve got to know whose voice that is’. And it turned out it was a friend of a friend – he was a friend of a friend of a friend, there was a connection – and I found out at the same time, this person had said to my friend, ‘Would you ever be interested in John Legend? He’s great.’ And I said Yeah! He’s the guy! I’ve got to have him on! Because a) he’s political, and b) he’s got a voice that makes me tremble. And sitting next to John, when he came on the first time and we sang “The Girl Is Mine” together, literally sitting next to him while he hit a note, was like standing next to a fire or something. You just vibrate when he hits those notes, when he really really soars on those notes. I just immediately took to his voice. And the man, he seems like a very good man, and a gentleman, too. There’s so much about him I liked – I liked his causes, I liked the way he presented himself, I liked the way he expressed himself, and I loved his music.
After that, I just had him on whenever I could. I felt like he’s been very generous with his time. I didn’t want to ask him to do the Rally, because he had just come on to do the troop shows that we had done, the end of the Iraq war troop shows, and he sang the soldier song there – “Coming Home” – on the last show, which just undid me and everyone in the audience. I can’t ask John to do something again, that’s too soon to ask him to do something again. And so I had no idea John was going to be at the Rally. I was at the Rally, I’m backstage, I’m way backstage, I’m like 500 feet from the stage, just trying to walk in circles, keep my energy going before we went onstage. And I heard John singing and I went Wait, what? What is John Legend doing here? And then I thought, I had already done stuff with The Roots, and to know he was out there playing with The Roots, I just felt like Oh, this is like being back in the studio, we’ve got great friends up there.
DB: The point that I was amazingly impressed with him was at the end of The Girl Is Mine, when you said “I will kick your prom king ass”, and he didn’t even flinch, total straight face, went straight into his line. I don’t know if you had improvised that, or if you were thinking about that before, but that was a thing of beauty, he didn’t even blink, he just kept going.
SC: I knew I was going to say that, but I didn’t know what he was going to say back. He just goes [sings] ‘Don’t waste your time, the doggone girl is mine’. That was fun.
DB: That’s the kind of stuff I wish they would release on an album. I know they can’t because of a gagillion licensing fees.
SC: It’s crazy. Doing the Christmas special and the Christmas album just opened all of our eyes – and we’ve all worked professionally in entertainment for years – just completely freaked us out, how many people are involved in getting a song recorded, in terms of how many legal hurdles there are. It’s amazing. I’d like to be able to do that too, but I don’t think it’ll ever happen. Letterman made it happen, Letterman put out ‘Live on Letterman, which was great.
DB: Well, we can bootleg it and [get the songs] for free, so we’re good there. With the Barry Manilow thing, I’ve been a Barry Manilow fan since I was old enough to know what music was, and that was just awesome.
SC: When Barry beat me for the Emmy, my sister called me the next day, and she said ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry you lost to Barry Manilow.’ Then there was a little pause, and she goes ‘But he does do a great show.’ Because she was an enormous Barry Manilow fan, and she’d seen his Vegas show, the thing he won for. So that’s why I got him to sign a plate to my sister Margot.
DB: The thing that’s been interesting to me watching the show from the very beginning, each year there’s a new layer that evolves within the character, you do these insane things that make absolutely no sense at all. Let me give an example, fighting a Styrofoam cup with a saccharine packet.
SC: The joke was that I was wasting energy, because the Democratic Convention was “green”, I think it was, like carbon neutral. And so I was going to waste energy and burn carbon. That’s why I ran my microwave the entire time, I put a cup in there, and then the cup’s gone, and it comes out mutant to attack me. That was just the joy of silliness, is what that was. Like let’s just do something big and incredibly silly.
DB: So what of all these insane things, what really sticks in your mind like ‘I cannot believe that we did that.’
SC: I loved marrying myself, the ‘I am Mrs. Colbert’. [DB: That’s actually going to be my final video, on my goodbye post.] ‘I am Mrs. Colbert’ is pretty great. I would say there’s a lot in Guitarmageddon that’s pretty great. There’s Guitarmaggeddon, and there’s having a light saber fight with George Lucas, having the Hungarian ambassador come on to do a lead guitar solo. All those things, as that first year evolved, we thought ‘Oh, look how much open field running there is.’ We can always go back to home base, of sort of false reconstruction of self-important punditry, but there’s so many other things that fit in with the character. Because anything he talks about is worthy of being on TV, because he believes it so. Anything he does is worthy of being on TV. There’s still some things that I imagined I would do very early on in the show that we’ve never really done, that I hope to do someday. They’re quite silly, and not really pundit-based, and slowly but surely we’ve doled them out. You know, maybe I’ll stop doing the show once I’ve done all of those, but there’s so many ideas from the very beginning of the show that we’re still doing these days. We always wanted to do silly, but when we found out how silly we could be and the show didn’t break, that was a great joy.
DB: Along the lines of complete silliness – you’ve got these teeny things that run through the character, that show up every six months for no apparent reason, like Stephen’s fascination with tube socks, or fear of baby carrots. But my very favorite has always been Tall Women Lifting Heavy Things. Is there any significance to that at all, or is it just random?
SC: I believe it is TallWomenCarryingHeavyThings.com. Carrying. There’s something I find very endearing about a female college intern, a slip of a thing carrying a 50 pound water bottle up three flights of stairs. Because there’s no elevator in our building, and there’s a water thing on the top floor. And there’s something I really like about watching them carry the water bottle up, because they really shouldn’t be. There are guys who could do it more easily, but they’re so dedicated, like ‘No, I don’t need any help.’ And I just love seeing them go ‘No, I don’t need help,’ and just grabbing that thing and going up the three flights. But it’s incredibly awkward while they do it, and I find it very endearing physical comedy, to watch them pull those water bottles up.
And I also just like tall women who don’t pretend they’re not tall. A lot of tall women slouch, in order to be not so tall. But I like it when they eat up the sidewalk when they walk. And so that was just – they said can we come up with a kink of yours, and I just put those two together. Tall women … carrying heavy things. Because I don’t actually want to put any one of my real kinks on air, and so just say it’s TallWomenCarryingHeavyThings.com. That’s how that came about.
DB: One of the things that fans absolutely love is when you get tickled, the character breaks. I’ve heard from people who are at live shows saying that you’ve redone stuff. Sometimes they get cut, and sometimes they don’t – how do you make that decision, like “We’re going with it”? Like one time, you had nicotine in your lip, you couldn’t even talk.
SC: The nicotine had literally made my upper lip just slightly tingly, and I was having trouble talking. It all depends. If it gets in the way of the progression of an argument, then I’ll cut it. But if it’s just the end of a series of jokes, or if I’m just in a series of doing what I would think of as one-off jokes, that really don’t need the cohesiveness of an argument, like every one’s sort of a setup and a punch line kind of joke, even though they may all be on the same subject – like all on the same subject of a certain medical device or something – that’s fine. But if I’m in the middle of an argument, like ‘The Word’, or if I’m in the middle of an argument trying to convince you of something, like this person is an Alpha Dog, or something like that – because a lot of the show is based on argumentativeness – if I’m in the middle of an argument, or if I’m in the middle of praise, it actually has to have some sort of essay-like cohesiveness to it, I will cut that out every time. Because you’ve got to stick in character. You can’t get out of character, because the character’s the one making the argument, and if you drop character in that, if you fully drop character in that, then you also drop the argument. If you know what I mean. I am the argument, if I drop character, everything falls apart.
I also just try to keep in character, but there’s just some times when – it happened tonight, on the show. There was a joke added at the last minute that I hadn’t read in rehearsal. It was about Aaron Schock, the congressman on the cover of Men’s Health, showing his six pack abs. It’s all part of this program called Fit For Life Summer, where he’s encouraging people to get fit for life – until September. And then we can all return to being alfredo-based life forms. And the idea of alfredo-based life forms, that we’re just made of alfredo cream sauce just tickled me. I just love the word alfredo, it was funny to me. And I lost it. But we kept it, there was no argument there. I would rather never break.
DB: Well, we’re glad you leave them in.
SC: Also, we can’t do that much editing of the show, because we’ve got to get it out of the building. We can’t be too precious. As long as it doesn’t hurt the show, we just let it go.
DB: Okay, here’s a good final question. On our site, we’ve done what we’ve done for five years because you’re such an inspiration on so many different levels – you’re funny, you raise money, you think of the least brothers, you just do so many wonderful things, you inspire so many people on so many different levels. So who are some of the people you look toward for inspiration, who you admire artistically, professionally, charitably, anything? Who is your Stephen Colbert?
SC: Well, Jon [Stewart] is a real inspiration to me. I’m very lucky to have him as the guy I learned how to produce and write and run a show like this from. He’s also an inspiration for the dedication he puts into the show every day, holding on to a high standard of distilling the jokes down into satire. Or at least distilling the jokes down into their finest point you can get them to before show time. Because you know, you can stop at 5:00, and be done, but if you drive all the way through to show time, you can really either say exactly what you want, or get exactly the joke you want. And he has never dropped it, after 12 years he’s still, every day gives everything. And that’s an inspiration to me, that he can stay so focused after all these years and really seem to enjoy himself.
And I’m also lucky to have him as a friend, because, you know, on days when I am completely wrung out, I can call him and say, How do you keep caring, every day? Because there’s nothing in the news that’s getting me going, there’s nothing happening right now with our scripts. I can’t express, I can’t convey a clear vision for anybody, because it’s always ultimately your responsibility, I can’t inspire. And he can say, well, ‘Join the club, you know? It comes and goes. I’ve been where you’ve been right now, I’ve gone through everything you’ve gone through, and I’m here to tell you, it gets better. Just stick with it, it’ll be fine. Because this is all cyclical.’ He is so supportive. I am so lucky to have Jon Stewart of all people call me up on a random day and say ‘I like that thing you did last night, and here’s why. And here’s what else you could do with it,’ or call me up and say ‘Hey, help me out, I’m trying to do something tonight. What do you think I should ask Newt Gingrich? What do you think I should ask Donald Rumsfeld?’ And I’m honored that he would ask that of me. And he’s also just a good, fun guy. I’m lucky to have him as a friend, and as a mentor.
And on top of that, I would say I’m inspired by my mom. Because she is 91, still loves life, and has reason to be bitter, and is not. And that is the greatest inspiration, that you can take into anything you do. That every day is a choice. And she always makes the choice to love that we are here. And that is a gift that I can never repay.
Tip of the Hat to Wren for the transcription help.