Stephen Colbert (character)
|Stephen T. Colbert|
|The Colbert Report character|
Stephen Colbert in character
|Created by||Stephen Colbert|
|Portrayed by||Stephen Colbert|
|Occupation||Host of The Colbert Report|
|Title||Doctor of Fine Arts (honorary)|
Stephen Colbert is the persona of political satirist Stephen Colbert, as portrayed on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. Described as a "well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot" and a "self-important right-wing commentator," the character incorporates aspects of the real Colbert's life and interests but is primarily a parody of cable news pundits, particularly Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.
Colbert first appeared as a correspondent on Comedy Central's news parody series The Daily Show in 1997 and remained a regular contributor until 2005, when he left to host The Colbert Report, a spin-off show satirizing personality-driven political pundit programs. He has also been featured in a number of other public performances, most notably at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, and as the author of the books I Am America (And So Can You!), I Am a Pole (And So Can You!), and America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't.
Development and inspirations 
The Dana Carvey Show 
Colbert's earliest mainstream exposure came in the prime time sketch comedy program The Dana Carvey Show. While only lasting seven episodes in early 1996, it provided Colbert with roles that would help forge his future onscreen persona. This was largely due to its format of delivering sketch performances directly to the camera. Although they did not air, several sketches inspired by The Onion also had Colbert playing a deadpan anchor delivering the news. In an interview with The New York Times regarding The Dana Carvey Show, Colbert noted, "If you have an opportunity to give it right to the audience, there’s a special connection that you make by looking at the camera."
The Daily Show 
Colbert appeared as a correspondent on The Daily Show between 1997 and 2005. During this time, the comedian developed the character that would later form the basis for his Colbert Report persona, one that its creator calls a "fool who has spent a lot of his life playing not the fool". Colbert frequently cites Stone Phillips — whom he describes as having "the greatest neck in journalism" — as a source of inspiration for the character, as well as Geraldo Rivera, "because he's got this great sense of mission... He just thinks he's gonna change the world with this report." As a correspondent, Colbert was regularly pitted against knowledgeable interview subjects or host Jon Stewart in scripted exchanges which typically revealed the character's lack of knowledge of whatever subject he was discussing. Other Daily Show correspondents have since adopted a similar style; former correspondent Rob Corddry recalls that when he and Ed Helms first joined the show's cast in 2002, they "just imitated Stephen Colbert for a year or two".
The Colbert Report 
In 2005, Colbert left The Daily Show to host a spin-off series entitled The Colbert Report, a parody of personality-driven political pundit programs such as Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor that center largely on the personal views of their hosts. Because of this enlarged role, the personality and beliefs of the Stephen Colbert character have become more clearly defined over the course of the show, complete with a fictitious backstory that has been revealed piecemeal in short monologues accompanying a part of the program. It was not until September 2011 that guest Al Gore mentioned that "Stephen Colbert" is merely a character, a move that shocked Stephen Colbert.
The character Colbert portrays in Report originated as an amplification of his self-important Daily Show correspondent. As they developed the character and the show, however, Colbert and his staff began to look at some more specific models. Bill O'Reilly, whom the character affectionately nicknames "Papa Bear", is the most commonly cited point of reference. In a 2006 episode of The Colbert Report, Colbert remarked that, "if it wasn't for [O'Reilly], this show wouldn’t exist". In adapting the character for the Report, Colbert has also mentioned Aaron Brown, Anderson Cooper, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and Joe Scarborough as having an influence over his performance. References to the character's abuse of prescription drugs are believed to be an allusion to Rush Limbaugh's addiction to painkillers.
The nightly in-character guest interviews were initially of concern to Colbert, who worried his character's belligerent nature would be off-putting to guests. However, since the show's debut, he says he has found he is able to "slide the intensity" of his behavior depending on his interviewee's ability to respond to his aggressive approach. Colbert now often cites the interview segment as his favorite part of the show, because it allows him to improvise. Colbert advises his guests to disabuse the character of his ignorance. "Don't let me get away with anything. Don't try to play my game. Be real. Be passionate. Hold your ideas. Give me resistance. Give me traction I can work against."
Colbert is the central character in the 2007 book I Am America (And So Can You!). Co-written with Paul Dinello and the writers of The Colbert Report, I Am America delves into what the character considers to be the most pressing issues facing America. The book takes influence from the literary endeavors of the character's pundit models, such as O'Reilly's The O'Reilly Factor (2000) and Hannity's Deliver Us From Evil (2004), which Colbert says he "forced" himself to read as a reference. I Am America is considered a pure extension of the Report; however, the written medium allowed the writers to employ different styles, such as long-format arguments, that they could not have used on television. "You can actually spend 20 pages talking about religion whereas in the show, two pages is about as long as we hold any one idea", Colbert explains. In doing this, the writers "discovered things that [the character] cared about that... they didn't know he cared about before".
A character similar to Colbert's Daily Show persona featured in the 2003 book Wigfield: The Can Do Town That Just May Not by Colbert, Paul Dinello and Amy Sedaris. Russell Hokes, a self-aggrandizing journalist, was voiced by Colbert in both stage performances of the text and the audiobook. Colbert likens Hokes to his self-important correspondent character, but "more extreme, more self-involved".
Non-fictional elements 
Certain elements of the character are drawn from the real Colbert's personal life. Both the real Colbert and the character were raised in Charleston, South Carolina; both are the youngest of 11 children; both played Dungeons & Dragons as teenagers; and both are practicing Roman Catholics. Colbert's own interest in and knowledge of religion, science fiction and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings story will often show through in the Report. His character has a chocolate portrait of Viggo Mortensen (who portrayed Aragorn in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films) in a place of honor on his shelf; Mortensen briefly reprised the role of Aragorn in the Report's September 13, 2007 episode. He also owns a Sting sword presented to him by Peter Jackson.
Occasionally, Colbert will mention his real-life siblings on the show. In one episode, he placed his brother Ed, a lawyer who advises the International Olympic Committee, "On Notice" for refusing to grant the show the rights to air footage of a dispute between two American speed skaters. Ed later appeared at the start of the February 22, 2010 edition advising Stephen on how to cover the Vancouver Winter Olympics since his character doesn't have the television rights to the games. However, footage from the Richmond Olympic Oval was used since Stephen was named a special advisor to USA Speedskating. Generally, journalists covering the Olympics don't have access to the venues unless their employer has the rights to Olympic TV coverage, and can't show moving video coverage of any official Olympic event unless they have permission from the rights holder. When his sister Elizabeth Colbert Busch declared her intention to run for congress, he mentioned the event. Later, when she was nominated to run against Mark Sanford and the MSNBC show Morning Joe declared their support for Sanford and mentioned Colbert, he defended his sister's campaign.
In an appearance at Harvard University in 2006, Colbert revealed that his character's fear of bears was in part inspired by a recurring nightmare he has had, in which a bear is standing between him and his goal. The character's phobia, which was initially referenced in the show's first "ThreatDown" skit, was originally slated to be a fear of alligators. By the time the Report went to air, however, the alligator story was several weeks old, and the writers chose to use a more recent news item involving a bear in its place.
After Colbert received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Knox College, the show began listing his name in the ending credits as "Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A." even though using both the honorific prefix and post-nominal letters is incorrect. During the show, the character will sometimes refer to the degree and the qualifications he mistakenly believes it bestows upon him.
In May 2007, Colbert was voted the "second most influential person in the world" by a Time magazine online poll. The first spot was taken by Rain, a young Korean pop star with a large following in Asia and the United States. Colbert then declared Rain his "arch-nemesis" and began mentioning him frequently on the Report. Colbert filmed a satirical music video poking fun at Rain's popular single "How to Avoid the Sun" and referencing several stereotypical South Korean dishes and products. The one-sided feud eventually culminated in Colbert challenging Rain to a competition on air. After telling Colbert "not to quit his day job", Rain appeared in a short segment on the show and competed (and won) a DDR dance-off with Colbert. Both have been defeated by Shigeru Miyamoto in recent polls, though they still continue to be strong contenders.
On June 21, 2007, Colbert broke his left wrist on the set of the Report while performing his warm-up for the show. This quickly became a regular source of comedy on the show as the self-absorbed character requested his audience send flowers, launched a campaign against Hollywood's supposed glorification of "wrist violence", and began a "wrist awareness" campaign with "WristStrong" silicone bracelets. Although his wrist has now healed, he continues to wear and promote his "WristStrong" bracelets. On August 23, 2007, the cast was removed on air and was put up for auction to the general public, complete with celebrity signatures, on eBay, where it achieved a winning bid of $17,200. All of the proceeds from both the cast and the bracelets were donated to the Yellow Ribbon Fund.
Fictional biography 
Colbert's fictional history is not always rigidly adhered to by the show's writers. The comedian himself says that, "My character's history may not always be perfectly consistent ... There's my bio and there's my character's bio, and then there's my character's history, which is slightly different than my character's bio." His early life, prior to becoming host of The Colbert Report, is expanded upon in I Am America (And So Can You!).
Like the actor who portrays him, Stephen T. Colbert is the youngest of 11 children, born into a devout Roman Catholic family—the character's family was so devout, in fact, they sent their teenage son to an "exorcism day camp located in Canton, Ohio" when they discovered he liked Dungeons & Dragons. In his in-character appearance on The O'Reilly Factor, Colbert stated that he is of Irish descent and only adopted the French pronunciation of his surname to "get the cultural elites" on his side. Colbert has made conflicting statements regarding his middle name, which he has at different times stated to be Tyrone (Colbert's actual middle name), Tiberius (like that of Captain James T. Kirk), Lee-Harvey, and Qxyzzy. The character has said he was regularly beaten up in high school, and by the time he left for college he was determined never to be a victim again. As such, on the first day of his freshman year he walked into class and punched the first person he saw (unfortunately, this happened to be his ethics professor). He attended Dartmouth College (instead of his first pick, Hogwarts, claiming that his white owl led them to reject him), although his acceptance into the college appears to have been largely influenced by a claimed familial relationship with a wealthy donor, and graduated in the top 47 percent of his class with a major in history. He has also referred to Bob Jones University as an alma mater.
Prior to embarking on a career in journalism, Colbert worked as a carnival roustabout and a construction worker. During the 1980s, he was the lead singer and guitarist of an ABC-like New Wave band called "Stephen and the Colberts". The comedian portrays his character's younger self in the band's music video, wearing worn jeans, cowboy boots and a spiky hair style. Their only revealed song to date is entitled "Charlene (I'm Right Behind You)", one of numerous references to an ex-girlfriend (and cousin) whom he continues to stalk despite numerous restraining orders. This song has been made available for download for free in the video game Rock Band. On the May 14, 2008 episode, Colbert claimed to have been the "totalitarian ruler of Malawi from 1982 to 1984". He mentions that his wife's first name is Lorraine.
Colbert later moved into reporting, working in TV news for several stations in Virginia and North Carolina. Occasionally he will show footage of himself as a "young man" (portrayed by Colbert, wearing a false moustache) working as an anchor at a local news station (WPTS) in Patterson Springs, North Carolina, still displaying his trademark outrage over minor municipal issues in the manner of 20/20 correspondent John Stossel. In 1997, Colbert was promoted to anchor of the Channel 7 News on WPTS Patterson Springs after outing the previous anchor, Wayne Colt, for his cocaine addiction. His ensuing investigative reports into Colt's downfall earned him a local Emmy, and eventually a correspondent position at The Daily Show. This corresponds with the year the comedian joined the cast of the show.
Colbert often makes digs at the expense of Daily Show host Jon Stewart. He has implied a strained relationship with Stewart, in contrast with the real Colbert's admiration for the comedian, and suggests that his departure from The Daily Show occurred under dubious circumstances. The character has described Stewart as a sexual predator and has been known to become tearful when his name is brought up. On the other hand, Colbert has also implied that he only got his own show by blackmailing Stewart with incriminating photographs.
Colbert is described in America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, to which he was a contributor while serving as a 'Daily Show' correspondent, as holding the positions of the Arthur Schlesinger Professor of American Studies at Harvard University, and of Chief Defender of International War Crimes at the World Court in the Hague. The book also states that he is the seven-time recipient of the Werner Heisenberg Prize for Excellence in Theoretical Mathematics. Paradoxically, Colbert is described as being barely capable of feeding himself as well as being "personally unpleasant".
Colbert was mock-knighted by Queen Noor of Jordan with a prop sword from The Lord of the Rings films, on his April 7, 2009 show in exchange for leading the "Colbert Nation" in signing the Global Zero declaration.
Presidential campaigns 
Colbert '08 
Colbert dropped hints of a potential presidential run throughout 2007, with speculation intensifying following the release of his book, I Am America (And So Can You!), which was rumored (invariably by Colbert himself) to be a sign that he was indeed testing the waters for a future bid for the White House. Colbert staunchly refused to confirm or deny his candidacy, stating he had not yet made up his mind and must first talk the possibility over with his family.
Colbert confirmed his presidential ambitions on his October 16, 2007 show, stating his intention to run both on the Republican and Democratic platforms, but only as a favorite son in his native South Carolina. In an interview with Larry King he revealed that, as his running mate, he would consider Mike Huckabee (who himself jokingly offered Colbert the vice presidential position). He also speculated on the possibility of a Colbert-Putin or Colbert-Colbert ticket. Colbert abandoned plans to run as a Republican due to the $35,000 fee required to file for the South Carolina primary. On November 1, 2007, it was announced that he would not appear on the Democratic primary ballot either, after being deemed ineligible by the South Carolina Democratic Party executive committee. Several days later he announced that he was withdrawing from the race, saying that he did not wish to put the country through an agonizing Supreme Court battle.
The show went on hiatus immediately after this as a result of the Writers Guild of America Strike. When it returned to air on January 7, 2008 without a writing staff, the character justified his absence by stating that he had taken some time off to have "a good cry" about his failed presidential attempt. He said that he had returned to air in celebration of Huckabee's success in the Iowa Caucus, something for which he considers himself personally responsible as Huckabee has appeared on the Report on numerous occasions to invite Colbert to be his running mate.
Despite having withdrawn from the presidential race, Colbert continued to be referred to as an active candidate in the Marvel Universe. Colbert '08 paraphernalia appeared in the artwork of various Marvel comics, and Colbert himself teamed up with Spider-Man in the October 2008 comic Amazing Spider-Man #573. On November 5, 2008, Marvel announced that its fictional newspaper The Daily Bugle was reporting Colbert's victory over both John McCain and Barack Obama. However, several hours later Marvel released a second Daily Bugle article correcting its initial reports, stating that while Colbert had won the popular vote Obama had secured more electoral votes, thus winning the presidency. "Oops, our bad", said Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada of the confusion. "We completely forgot the Marvel Universe reflects what happens in the real world."
2012 exploration for "President of the United States of South Carolina" 
During the September 28, 2011 episode of The Colbert Report, Colbert consulted his lawyer and they set up his own 501(c)(4) organization, similar to American Crossroads. As a super PAC the organization can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions and other groups, as well as wealthy individuals. With Colbert as president of the Colbert Super PAC, the PAC ran several political ads prior to the Ames Straw Poll. The first ad, titled "Episode IV: A New Hope", told Iowans to write-in "Rick Parry" instead of Rick Perry, and the second ad, "Behind the Green Corn", supported "Parry" as well.
During the January 12, 2012 episode of The Colbert Report, Colbert announced his plans to form an exploratory committee to lay the groundwork for his possible candidacy for "President of the United States of South Carolina". In the process, he transferred control of the Super PAC to Jon Stewart, renaming it The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC, since, according to Colbert's lawyer, Trevor Potter, it would definitely be illegal for Colbert and Stewart to coordinate their efforts in super PAC activities. However, a CBS news report called Colbert's run "essentially a joke", saying, "The real significance of Colbert's announcement may be the spotlight it puts on super PACs, into which donors can pour unlimited money in order to support or attack candidates, and thus influence election outcomes. Super PACs were made possible by the 2010 "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision that effectively classified money as speech".
Colbert's timing was too late for his name to be added the South Carolina primary ballot, and South Carolina law would not allow for write-in candidates. Polling showed that 21% of the potential Republican primary electorate reported they would be "more likely" to vote for former candidate Herman Cain, who remained on the ballot, if that vote served as encouragement for Colbert. Herman Cain received 6,338 votes in the South Carolina Republican Primary, which was more than all the other withdrawn candidates received combined. On the next episode of The Colbert Report broadcast on January 23, 2012, Colbert boasted about passing the 1% threshold and for Cain receiving many more votes in South Carolina than in Iowa and New Hampshire. Colbert then announced that he would no longer be exploring a run for President of the United States of South Carolina.
Described as a "caustic right-wing bully", an "arch-conservative blowhard", and by his creator and namesake as a "well-intentioned, poorly informed, high status idiot", Colbert is egomaniacal, xenophobic and fiercely anti-intellectual. He claims to be politically independent, like his idol Bill "Papa Bear" O'Reilly; although in fact the character fawns over the Bush administration and the Republican Party, and frequently asks his guests, "George Bush: Great president, or the greatest president?" Since the election of Barack Obama, Colbert continues his right-wing views, but claims he will "support our new President as long as [he] remains popular". Colbert emphasizes that his character is genuinely well-meaning and wants to do the right thing, but does not have the tools to achieve it "because he has no curiosity, he doesn't like to read and he won't listen to anybody except the voices in his head".
Colbert is deeply self-centered and takes everything personally, a trait which is reflected in his discussion of the news and current events. According to the comedian, "There's nothing too large that doesn't involve him. Every news story is really about him ... Everything he cares about is a news story because he cares about it." This is expressed in his frequent attacks on and feuds with well-known figures such as The Decemberists, Sean Penn, Conan O'Brien, Rain, Barry Manilow, Tony Bennett, and Don Rickles (the latter three of whom beat out Colbert for Best Individual in a Variety or Music Program at the Emmys). The comedian equates these feuds with Bill O'Reilly's culture wars.
Central to Colbert's personality is his rigid belief that "what I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true", regardless of any evidence to the contrary. He discussed this in the Report's first Wørd segment, using the term "truthiness" as he explained what he perceives to be the difference between "those who think with their head and those who know with their heart". He has further gone on to ascribe "truthiness" to other institutions including Wikipedia, which he believes upholds his view that reality can be determined by consensus opinion, and often encourages viewers to use Wikipedia to "change reality". Colbert believes that if a majority of people want something to be true, that thing therefore must become the truth. For instance, after months of scoffing at global warming, Colbert suddenly reversed his position, conceding its existence only due to the box office success of An Inconvenient Truth, a sign that "the free market has spoken".
Colbert describes himself as racially color-blind and unable to visually identify a person's race, explaining, "Now, I don't see race ... People tell me I'm white, and I believe them, because I own a lot of Jimmy Buffett albums." His race-blindness is a recurring joke, and this statement is often repeated on the show with different punch lines. For this same reason he believed that he was black when he had an emotional breakdown after watching Obama's inauguration video. He later qualified these statements in his book, stating, "When I say I don't see race, I mean I don't see Black people. But I can spot a Mexican at a hundred paces." Despite all these claims, Colbert often boasts that he has a large number of token minority friends (including Jon Stewart as "[his] Jewish friend" and Oprah Winfrey as "[his] black friend"), although in the photos shown these friends appear decidedly uninterested in him. He has stated a similar inability to distinguish between the sexes, claiming to only "see an American". This comes in contradiction of his at times sexist behavior, for instance, calling only on men during an open discussion with his audience on women's issues.
The comedian has said that he likes playing weak characters, and particularly revealing weaknesses in high status figures. During the course of the show, he will frequently peel back the Colbert character's apparent bravado to expose a very weak inner core. In one instance, Colbert demands one of his staff members subject him to simulated waterboarding, only to break down into pleas for mercy upon hearing a water bottle cap popped. In another episode, he criticizes The Today Show cohost Matt Lauer for saying that it's unacceptable for men to cry, only to sob hysterically upon learning that Katie Couric has left the show. These status shifts occur commonly, and constitute a central component of the show's comedy.
2009 visit to Baghdad, Iraq 
Stephen Colbert arrived in Baghdad, Iraq on June 5, 2009, to film a week of shows called "Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando" The episodes were filmed June 7–9, 2009, which was sponsored by the USO. Al-Faw Palace's rotunda was used for the filming of Operation Iraqi Stephen. Stephen had a suit tailored for him in the Army Combat Uniform pattern and went through an abbreviated version of the Army's basic training regimen. The suit was specially tailored by Brooks Brothers. As a tribute to Bob Hope, Colbert brought a golf club on stage, a Hope trademark.
The first episode included an interview with Multinational Force - Iraq commander General Ray Odierno, which was interrupted by U.S. President Barack Obama. Obama stated that if Colbert really wanted to be a soldier, along with his attendance to Basic Combat Training, he needed to have his hair shaved off. Obama then ordered General Odierno to "shave that man's head". General Odierno then began to shave Colbert's head; the job was finished during the commercial break by one of Colbert's staff members. The episode also featured a message to the troops from U.S. Senator John McCain with a friendly reminder to "always remember to clean your muskets", a lesson he claimed to have learned at Valley Forge, as a reference to old age jokes that he faced during the 2008 Presidential Election. Several other prominent politicians, including former presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush, along with Vice President Joe Biden and then Alaska governor Sarah Palin recorded messages for the troops that were aired in the following episodes.
Other appearances 
- White House Correspondents' Association Dinner April 29, 2006
- 58th Primetime Emmy Awards, presenter, August 27, 2006
- Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Benefit for Autism, October 15, 2006
- Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #15, December 20, 2006
- The O'Reilly Factor, in-character interview, January 18, 2007
- 59th Primetime Emmy Awards, presenter, September 16, 2007
- Meet the Press, in-character interview as presidential candidate, October 21, 2007
- 60th Primetime Emmy Awards, presenter, September 21, 2008
- The Amazing Spider-Man #573, October 15, 2008
- Late Night with Conan O'Brien, February 4, 2008 and February 17, 2009
- United States House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, September 24, 2010. However, Colbert did break character when he responded to questions by Congresswoman Judy Chu about the plight of immigrant workers.
- Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Co-organizer October 30, 2010
- This Week with George Stephanopoulos, January 15, 2012
See also 
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- Other punch lines include: ...because I have my own late night talk show, ...because I can’t say the "N" word, ...because I think Barack Obama is black, ...because I shop at Eddie Bauer, ...because I belong to an all-white country club
- Plume, Ken (August 11, 2006). Interview: Stephen Colbert. Tibby's Bowl. Retrieved on 2007-12-20.
- The Colbert Report, Episode 2143, November 13, 2006.
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- Colbert Nation—The official Colbert Report website, featuring daily reports of the show and videos.
- Wikiality—A Wikipedia parody based on Colbert's idea of Wikiality.
- Make Me America—The official I am America (And So Can You) book website.
- How Many Stephen Colberts Are There?