Stephen Colbert at Knox College.
Stephen Tyrone Colbert (IPA: [kol'bɛr]) (born May 13, 1964) is a four-time Emmy Award-winning American comedian, actor, and writer, known for his satirical style and deadpan comedic delivery. Colbert originally studied to be a dramatic actor, but became interested in improvisational theater when he met famed Second City director Del Close while attending Northwestern University. He first performed professionally as an understudy for Steve Carell at Second City Chicago; among his troupe mates were comedians Paul Dinello and Amy Sedaris, with whom he developed the critically acclaimed sketch comedy series Exit 57. Colbert also wrote and performed on the short-lived Dana Carvey Show before collaborating with Sedaris and Dinello again on the cult TV series Strangers with Candy. He gained considerable attention for his role on the latter as closeted gay history teacher Chuck Noblet; it was his work as a correspondent on Comedy Central's news-parody series The Daily Show, however, that first introduced him to a wide audience.
In 2005, he left The Daily Show to host its newly-created spinoff series, The Colbert Report. Following from The Daily Show's news-parody conceit, The Colbert Report styles itself as a parody of such personality-driven political opinion shows as Bill O'Reilly's The O'Reilly Factor. Since its debut the series has been successful, earning Colbert three Emmy nominations and an invitation to perform as featured entertainer at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in its first year, in addition to establishing itself as one of Comedy Central's highest rated series. Colbert was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in 2006.
Stephen Colbert was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in South Carolina on James Island, the youngest of eleven children in an Irish Catholic family. His father, James Colbert, was the vice president for academic affairs at the Medical University of South Carolina. His mother, Lorna Colbert, was a homemaker. In interviews, Colbert has described his parents as devout people who also strongly valued intellectualism, and taught their children that it was possible to question the Church and still be Catholic. The emphasis his family placed on intelligence as a desirable trait would lead Colbert to lose his southern accent when he was still quite young. As a child, he observed that Southerners were often depicted as being less intelligent than other characters on scripted television; in order to sound more intelligent, he taught himself to imitate the speech of American news anchors from an early age.
On September 11, 1974, when Colbert was ten years old, his father and two brothers, Peter and Paul, were killed in the crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 212 while it was attempting to land in Charlotte, North Carolina. They were reportedly en route to enroll the two boys at Canterbury High School in New Milford, Connecticut. Shortly thereafter, Lorna Colbert relocated the family downtown to the more urban environment of East Bay Street. By his own account, Colbert found the transition difficult, and did not easily make new friends in his new neighborhood. Colbert would later describe himself during this time as detached, lacking a sense of the importance of the things other children around him concerned themselves with. He developed a love of science fiction and fantasy novels, especially the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, of which he remains an avid fan. During his adolescence, he also developed an intense interest in fantasy role-playing games, especially Dungeons & Dragons, a pastime which he would later characterize as an early experience in acting and improvisation.
Colbert attended Charleston's Episcopal Porter-Gaud School, where he participated in several school plays and contributed to the school newspaper, but, by his own assessment, was not highly motivated academically. When he was younger, he had hoped to study marine biology, but surgery intended to repair a severely perforated eardrum caused him inner ear damage sufficient to rule out a career that would involve scuba diving, as well as leaving him deaf in his right ear. For a while, he was uncertain as to whether or not he would attend college, but ultimately he applied and was accepted to Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, where a friend had also enrolled. There he continued to participate in plays while studying mainly philosophy; he found the curriculum rigorous, but was more focused than he had been in high school and was able to apply himself to his studies. Despite the lack of a significant theater community at Hampden-Sydney, Colbert's interest in the acting escalated during this time. After two years, he transferred to Northwestern University's school of speech to study performance, emboldened by the realization that he loved performing even when no one was coming to shows. While there, he became involved in the improvisation troupe ImprovOlympic. After college, he went to work at The Second City and participated in improv classes there.
Colbert sometimes comedically refers to his surname as French, but his family is actually of Irish decent. Originally, the name was pronounced "Col-bert", but Colbert's father had always wanted to pronounce the name "Col-bear", remaining "Col-bert" only out of respect for his own father. As a result, James Colbert offered his children the option to pronouce the name whichever way they preferred. Colbert started using "Col-bear" when he transferred to Northwestern University, taking advantage of the opportunity to reinvent himself in a new place where no one knew him.
Although by his own account he was not particularly political before joining the cast of The Daily Show, Colbert is a self-described Democrat. He is also a practicing Roman Catholic and a Sunday school teacher.He lives in Montclair, New Jersey with his wife Evelyn McGee-Colbert who appeared with him in an episode of Strangers with Candy as his mother. She also had an uncredited cameo as a nurse in the series pilot, along with a credited one (as his wife, Clair) in the Strangers with Candy movie. The couple has three children: Madeline, Peter, and John — all of whom have appeared on The Daily Show.
Career in comedy
While at Northwestern, Colbert studied with the intent of becoming a dramatic actor; mostly he performed in experimental plays and was uninterested in comedy. He began performing improv at the Annoyance Theater in Chicago as a part of Del Close's ImprovOlympic at a time when the project was focused on competitive, long form improvisation, rather than improvisational comedy. "I wasn't gonna do Second City," Colbert later recalled, "because those Annoyance people looked down on Second City because they thought it wasn't pure improv — there was a slightly snobby, mystical quality to the Annoyance people."
After Colbert graduated, however, he was in need of a job, and a friend who was employed at Second City's box office offered him work answering phones and selling souvenirs. Colbert accepted, and discovered that Second City employees were entitled to take classes at their training center for free. Despite his earlier aversion to the comedy group, he signed up, and enjoyed the experience greatly; shortly thereafter, he was hired to perform with Second City's touring company, initially as an understudy for Steve Carell. It was there he met Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, with whom he would often collaborate later in his career. By their retelling, the three comedians did not get along at first — Dinello thought Colbert was uptight, pretentious and cold, while Colbert thought of Dinello as "an illiterate thug" — but the trio became close friends while touring together, discovering that they shared a similar comic sensibility.
When Sedaris and Dinello were offered the opportunity to create a television series for HBO Downtown Productions, Colbert quit Second City and relocated to New York in order to work with them on the sketch comedy show Exit 57. The series debuted on Comedy Central in 1995 and aired through 1996. Despite only lasting for 12 episodes, the show received favorable reviews and was nominated for five CableACE Awards in 1995, in categories including best writing, performance, and comedy series.
Following the cancellation of Exit 57, Colbert worked for six months as a cast member and writer on The Dana Carvey Show, alongside former Second City cast mate Steve Carell, as well as Robert Smigel, Charlie Kaufman, Louis CK and Dino Stamatopoulos, among others. The series, described by one reviewer as "kamikaze satire" in "borderline-questionable taste", had sponsors pull out after its first episode aired, and was cancelled after seven episodes. Colbert then worked as a freelance writer for Saturday Night Live with Robert Smigel. Smigel also brought his animated sketch The Ambiguously Gay Duo to SNL from The Dana Carvey Show; Colbert provided the voice of Ace on both series, opposite Steve Carell as Gary. To make ends meet, he also worked as a script consultant for VH1 and MTV, before taking a job filming humorous correspondent segments for Good Morning America. Only two of the segments he proposed were ever produced, and only one aired, but the job led his agent to refer him to The Daily Show's then-producer, Madeline Smithberg, who hired Colbert on a trial basis in 1997.
Strangers With Candy
During the same time frame, Colbert worked again with Sedaris and Dinello to develop a new comedy series for Comedy Central, Strangers with Candy. Comedy Central picked up the series in 1998 after Colbert had already begun working on The Daily Show. As a result Colbert accepted a reduced role, filming only 20 Daily Show segments a year while he worked on the new series.
Strangers with Candy was conceived of as a parody of after-school specials, following the life of Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old drop-out who returns to finish high school after 30 years of life on the street. Most noted by critics for its use of offensive humor, it concluded each episode by delivering to the audience a skewed, politically incorrect moral lesson. Colbert served as a main writer alongside Sedaris and Dinello, as well as portraying Jerri's strict but uninformed history teacher, Chuck Noblet, seen throughout the series dispensing inaccurate information to his classes. Colbert has likened this to the character he played on The Daily Show and later The Colbert Report, claiming that he has a very specific niche in portraying "uninformed, high-status idiot" characters. Another running joke throughout the series was that Noblet, a closeted homosexual, was having a "secret" affair with fellow teacher Geoffrey Jellineck despite the fact that their relationship was apparent to everyone around them.
Thirty episodes of the series were made, which aired on Comedy Central in 1999 and 2000. Though its ratings were not remarkable during its initial run, it has been characterized as a cult show with a small but dedicated audience. Colbert reprised his role for a film adaptation, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005 and had a limited release in 2006. The film received mixed reviews. Colbert also co-wrote the screenplay with Sedaris and Dinello.
The Daily Show
Stephen Colbert joined the cast of Comedy Central's parody-news series The Daily Show in 1997, when the show was in its second season. Originally one of four "correspondents" who filmed segments from remote locations in the style of network news field reporters, Colbert was referred to as "the new guy" on-air for his first two years on the show, during which time Craig Kilborn served as host. When Kilborn left the show prior to the 1999 season, Jon Stewart took over hosting duties, also serving as a writer and co-executive. From this point, the series gradually began to take on a more political tone, and began to increase in popularity, particularly in the latter part of 2000 during the U.S. presidential election season. The role of the show's correspondents was expanded to include more in-studio segments, as well as international reports which were almost always faked with the aid of a green screen.
Unlike Stewart, who essentially hosts The Daily Show as himself, Colbert developed a correspondent character for his pieces on the series. Colbert has described his correspondent character as "a fool who has spent a lot of his life playing not the fool" — an idiot who is informed enough to be able to cover for his idiocy much of the time, but is still an idiot. The character was frequently pitted against knowledgeable interview subjects, or against Stewart in scripted exchanges, with the resultant dialogue demonstrating the Colbert-character's lack of knowledge of whatever he's talking about; he also made generous use of humorous fallacies of logic in explaining his point of view on any topic. Other Daily Show correspondents have adopted a similar style, and the convention of having more character-driven correspondent segments, with Stewart serving as a kind of straight-man foil, is now generally accepted as a part of the show's format.
Some recurring segments Colbert has appeared in for The Daily Show have included "Even Stevphen" with Steve Carell, and "This Week in God," a weekly report on topics in the news pertaining to religion, presented with the help of "The God Machine". Colbert also filed reports from the floor of the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention as a part of The Daily Show's award-winning coverage of the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Presidential elections; many from the latter were included as part of their Indecision 2004 DVD release. In a few episodes of The Daily Show, Colbert filled in as anchor in the absence of Jon Stewart, including the full week of March 3, 2002 when Stewart was scheduled to host Saturday Night Live. On one occasion, guest interviewee Al Sharpton failed to arrive for the taping, so Colbert filled in as Sharpton. After Colbert left the show, the duty of filling in for Stewart was assumed by Rob Corddry until Coddry's departure in August 2006. Corddry also took over the "This Week in God" segments, although a recorded sample of Colbert's voice is still used as a sound effect for the God Machine. New episodes of The Daily Show still occasionally reuse older Colbert segments under the label "Klassic Kolbert". Colbert won four Emmys as a writer of The Daily Show in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.
The Colbert Report
Since October 17, 2005, Colbert has hosted his own television show, The Colbert Report, a Daily Show spin-off which parodies the conventions of television news broadcasting, particularly cable-personality political talk shows like The O'Reilly Factor and Scarborough Country. Colbert hosts the show in-character as a blustery right-wing pundit, generally considered to be an extension of his character on The Daily Show. Conceived of by co-creators Stewart, Colbert and Ben Karlin in part as an opportunity to explore "the character-driven news", the series focuses less on the day-to-day news cycle than the Daily Show, instead frequently concentrating on the foibles of the host-character himself, who is as passionate about politics as he is uninformed. While Bill O'Reilly is the most commonly mentioned point of reference for this character, the fictional Stephen Colbert is described by his real-life counterpart as an exaggerated amalgamation of characteristics from several right-wing commentators, including Joe Scarborough, Sean Hannity and Geraldo Rivera besides O'Reilly.
The concept for The Report was first seen in a series of Daily Show segments which advertised the as-of-yet-fictional series as a joke. It was later developed by Stewart's Busboy Productions and pitched to Comedy Central, which greenlighted the program; Comedy Central had already been searching for a way to extend the successful Daily Show franchise beyond a half hour. The series opened to strong ratings, averaging 1.2 million viewers nightly during its first week on the air. Comedy Central signed a long-term contract for The Colbert Report within its first month on the air, when it immediately established itself among the network's highest-rated shows.
In January 2006, the American Dialect Society named truthiness, which Colbert featured on the premiere episode of the Colbert Report, as its 2005 Word of the Year. Colbert devoted time on five successive episodes to bemoaning the failure of the Associated Press to mention his role in popularizing the word truthiness in its news coverage of the Word of the Year. Colbert was nominated for three Emmys for The Colbert Report in 2006, including the "Best Performance in a Variety, Musical Program or Special" award, which he lost to Barry Manilow — Manilow and Colbert would go on to sign and notarize a revolving biannual "custody agreement" for the Emmy on the Colbert Report episode aired on 30 October 2006. Colbert's only Emmy in 2006 came as a writer for The Daily Show.
2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner
On Saturday, April 29, 2006, Stephen Colbert was the featured entertainer for the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Standing a few yards from U.S. President George W. Bush – in front of an audience the Associated Press called a "Who's Who of power and celebrity" – Colbert delivered a controversial, searing routine targeting the president and the media. In his faux-politically conservative character from The Colbert Report, Colbert satirized the George W. Bush administration and the White House press corps with such lines as:
|“||"I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound — with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."||”|
— S. Colbert
The performance received a lukewarm response from the audience, and major media outlets paid little attention to it initially. Some, such as Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism professor Todd Gitlin, claimed that this was because Colbert was critical of the Bush administration in the routine. Richard Cohen, also writing for the Washington Post, responded by claiming that Colbert didn't get media attention because the routine wasn't funny. The video of Colbert's performance became an Internet and media sensation, and ratings for The Colbert Report rose 37% in the week following the speech. Time magazine's James Poniewozik called it "the political-cultural touchstone issue of 2006." Writing six months later, New York Times columnist Frank Rich referred to Colbert's speech as a "cultural primary" and christened it the "defining moment" of the 2006 midterm elections.
Stephen Colbert is co-author of the satirical text-and-picture novel Wigfield: The Can Do Town That Just May Not, which was published in 2003 by Hyperion Books. The novel was a collaboration between Colbert, Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, and tells the story of a small town threatened by the impending destruction of a massive dam. The narrative is presented as a series of fictional interviews with the town's residents, accompanied by photos. The three authors toured performing an adaptation of Wigfield on stage the same year the book was released.
Colbert appeared in a small supporting role in the 2005 film adaptation of Bewitched. He has made guest appearances on the television series Curb Your Enthusiasm, Spin City, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and on the improvisational comedy show Whose Line is it Anyway?. He formerly voiced the characters of Reducto and Phil Ken Sebben in the Cartoon Network's Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, which airs as part of the network's Adult Swim lineup. Colbert also has provided voices for Comedy Central's Crank Yankers, Cartoon Network's The Venture Bros., and American Dad!, as well as for Canadian animated comedy series The Wrong Coast.
Colbert filled in for Sam Seder on the second episode of The Majority Report on Air America Radio, and has also done reports for The Al Franken Show. He performed the opening narration of the play Hedwig and the Angry Inch on a CD compilation of music from and inspired by the play and film. Colbert read the part of Leopold Bloom in Bloomsday on Broadway XXIV: Love Literature Language Lust: Leopold's Women Bloom on June 16, 2005 at Symphony Space in New York City. He appeared in a series of TV commercials for General Motors, as a not-too-bright investigator searching for the elusive (and non-existent in real life) "Mr. Goodwrench". He also portrayed the letter Z in Sesame Street: All-Star Alphabet, a 2005 video release.
Colbert is currently working on a new book that will be published in September 2007 by Warner Books; its title has not yet been announced. Warner Books was also the publisher of America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, written by the Daily Show staff. The new book is expected to contain similar political satire, but will be written primarily by Colbert rather than as a collaboration with his Colbert Report writing staff.
Awards and honors
Time Magazine named Stephen Colbert as one of the 100 most influential people in 2006. In May 2006, the New Yorker magazine also listed Colbert, along with Jon Stewart and Blank of the Daily Show, as one of its top dozen influential persons in media. Colbert was the commencement speaker for the class of 2006 at Knox College. Colbert also received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degree from the college on June 3, 2006. On March 29, 2006, Colbert announced that he had been contacted by representatives of the San Francisco Zoo seeking his permission to name a then unhatched bald eagle after him. The eagle, dubbed "Stephen Jr.", was hatched to be reintroduced into the wild as a part of the zoo's California Bald Eagle Breeding Program. Colbert celebrated its birth on-air on April 17, 2006, and updates on the bird's development have been featured on the show since. During the August 15, 2006 edition of his show, Colbert requested that fans submit a request to name a new mascot for the Saginaw Spirit, an Ontario Hockey League team from Saginaw, Michigan, after him. On September 30, 2006, the team named the mascot "Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle" in honor of Colbert. He was named "2nd Sexiest TV News Anchor" in September 2006 by Maxim Online, next to Melissa Theuriau of France. He was the only man on the list. In November 2006, he was named one of the Sexiest Men Alive by People Magazine. In the December 2006 issue of GQ, he is named one of GQ's "Men of the Year".
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