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Five Minutes With: Stephen Colbert: Five Minutes in the ring with the Champeen

 
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User ID: 352
United States
02/07/2006 12:49 PM
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Five Minutes With: Stephen Colbert: Five Minutes in the ring with the Champeen
Five Minutes With: Stephen
Colbert

By Elana Berkowitz and Amy Schiller

As one of America’s finest voices in fake news reporting, Stephen
Colbert’s
straight guy blue suit, arched eyebrows and deadpan seriousness have
become highlights of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” where he is the
senior correspondent. As cable news increasingly becomes a sad parody
of itself, “The Daily Show,” an actual parody show, remains profoundly
funny and totally relevant. Prior to joining “The Daily Show” at its
birth in 1996, Colbert
spent years in the trenches of the sketch comedy world, including a
stop at Chicago’s famed Second City, where he met Paul Dinello and Amy
Sedaris. The three of them went on to create the Comedy Central series
“Strangers With Candy,” a really twisted take on the after-school
special, staring a former junkie prostitute turned loserish high school
student. This fall, a “Strangers with Candy” feature film will be
released. Meanwhile, Colbert
will be starring in his own Comedy Central show called, naturally, “The
Colbert
Report.” (Remember, the “t” in the name is silent because, as Colbert
himself explains, “It’s French, bitch!”)

Stephen
Colbert
spoke with Campus Progress about mocking our nation’s foibles, meeting
Bill Clinton, and making everything stupider.

Stephen ColbertCP:
When you were developing your super straight guy look and sound, which
actual media personalities did you model yourself after?

SC:
First of all, I am a super straight guy. I grew up in Charleston, South
Carolina, and I am perfectly comfortable in blue blazers, khaki pants,
Brooks Brothers suits and regimental striped ties. It’s just genetic. I
love a cocktail party with completely vacuous conversation, because I
grew up in it.

But in terms of who I channel, my natural
inclination was Stone Phillips, who has the greatest neck in
journalism. And he’s got the most amazingly severe head tilt at the end
of tragic statements, like “there were no…survivors.” He just tilts his
head a bit on that “survivors” as if to say “It’s true. It’s sad. There
were none.”

CP: Plus, his name has that sort of Republican porn star
vibe to it.

SC: Exactly, if it were Stone Fill-Up then it would really be
a porn star name.

And
then I also used Geraldo Rivera, because he’s got this great sense of
mission. He just thinks he’s gonna change the world with this report.
He’s got that early seventies hip trench coat scoop ranger. “busting this
thing wide
open” look going on. So those two guys. And Peter Mansbridge obviously.

CP: Naturally.

SC: (Loud crunching sounds.) Wait, wait, I gotta do something
for a second. (More loud crunching sounds.)

CP: Are you hiking through the mountains?

SC:
Yes, actually, I’m on the side of El Capitan. I’m about to summit, but
I just realized there’s no one on belay. No, actually, I just had to
get out of my car to get a ticket at the parking garage. What were you
asking?

CP: You do “This Week in God.” Which is one of
our favorite segments. You’re from a South Carolinian religious family
and you are a church-goer yourself. Why did you choose to focus so
heavily on religion right now?

SC: We used to do This
Week in God only once a month, but if there was room on the show we
could do it every week! There is so much religion in public life. It
has become acceptable for court decisions to be based on the Gospel.
There’s so much religion in public life. It’s a religious pandemic.
It’s everywhere. It’s not a needle in a haystack. We throw away stories
every week. I know we’re not a secular state like France which has it
in their constitution, but boy I wish our founding fathers had been at
little clearer in that First Amendment.

CP: We are living in a pretty absurd time. Are there ever
any news incidents that were so absurd you can’t make them funny?

SC:
Well, obviously real tragedy, like the London bombing, is off limits.
No one wants to do comedy about that. But I would say there’s almost
nothing that can’t be mocked on a certain level as long as it doesn’t
involve loss of life or deep human tragedy. I don’t think we ever
looked at something and said that’s too ridiculous to make more
ridiculous. Contrary to what people may say, there’s no upper limit to
stupidity. We can make everything stupider.

CP: Speaking of stupid, who are some the most
unintentionally funny figures in American politics?

SC:
You know Rick Santorum? The one who compared being gay to fucking a
dog? That’s a good one. Who else is good? The entire Supreme Court is
pretty funny when they denied medical marijuana when there’s a man
named William Rehnquist who wrote a dissenting opinion,
who’s the Chief Justice who happens to be dying of cancer. That must
have been a pretty hilarious conversation back in the chambers: “Listen
Bill, we know you’re dying of cancer but we just can’t have you rolling
a joint!” That must have been a great conversation.

CP:
Clearly, your work on “The Daily Show” requires you to be reading
multiple news sources every day. But before this, you were a career
comedian who didn’t focus on politics. Were you always interested in
these issues?

SC: I’ve always been a news junkie but I never wrote political
satire before “The Daily Show.”

CP: It seems like some comedians don’t want to touch
political comedy. Why?

SC: Well, you have to have a passionate opinion;
otherwise you sound false. You end up telling the audience jokes
they’ve already heard. The example I think of when I was just starting
out was Ted Kennedy drinking jokes. Like, "Ted Kennedy—‘nuff said."
That’s not a joke—that’s a flippant cynical dismissal of someone in
politics. It inures the audience to feeling or thought so it’s not
satire. I had no interest in something like that. But at “The Daily
Show,” Jon asks us to have an opinion,
and it turned out I had one.

CP: What about your new show? Can we get a preview?

SC:
I’m really excited about more me. I think 30 minutes of me is really
what America wants. I think they’ve been longing for it and I’m so glad
we could finally give it to them. For long enough, they’ve suffered in
silence.

CP: What percentage of your student viewers are stoned when
they watch “The Daily Show”? Bill
O’Reilly seemed to think your viewership contained quite a large
number of stoned slackers.

SC:
I’d say…ahhh… This is on a scale of 1-100, right? I think the
percentage is based on whatever channel it is on in the cable market,
like in New York, we’re channel 49, so 49% of people are high while
watching. In South Carolina, where I’m from, we are on a channel in the
low seventies, so around 70% of people are stoned.

CP:
There’ve been all these reports about young people who rely on the “The
Daily Show” as a primary news source. When you heard that, were you
like “what the hell?” Do you feel responsibility?

SC: No
responsibility, I just feel sorry for the people who only get their
news from us because they’re missing half the joke. Yes, we do a joke
on what the news is, but the other half is on how the news is reported.
So, if they watch the nightly news or cable news program, they’ll enjoy
our show more.

I do want to see a statistic or comparison of
people who before “The Daily Show” they didn’t get their news from
anywhere but us. That would be significant but I’ve never seen anyone
bring those numbers.

CP: The “Indecision 2004” DVD came
out recently. It was great stuff. During that coverage, what was your
moment of greatest comedic joy or of deepest despair?

SC:
The moment of greatest comedic joy was [when] I did a piece on how
diverse the Democratic party is at the DNC. I found—these are the terms
I used—a gay guy, a tree hugger, a Jew, a black guy, a lesbian, an
Indian, a hippie and I just assembled them and talked about the issues
in the way the press does, in the most rudimentary and reductive way.
It showed how the Democratic party was a hodgepodge of people who have
a hard time agreeing because they all have different agendas. And the
piece went well, but the highlight was that the night it was on the
show, Bill Clinton was the guest and Clinton came back and found me. He
said “That was hilay-rious! How’d you find those people?” Here is the
master of coalitions and he wanted to know how I found all those people
for this false coalition panel. We talked a while about what is funny
and hard about getting Democrats to talk to each other. It was a real
joy for me to talk with the president about it.

And the low
point was the Republican National Convention, just because I couldn’t
get people to talk to me. It was like banging my head against a brick
wall.

CP: Was that because they suspected you?

SC:
Well, they have huge contempt for reporters in general, whether they
knew who I was or not. I had to compliment a woman on her blouse to get
her to talk to me—and that woman turned out to be friend of mine’s
sister.

Also, they were really focused, I think, even if
they didn’t know my deal, they were focused on the stage or the podium.
There wasn’t a lot of downtime at the Republican National
Convention—the Democrats are a little more freewheeling. So you
couldn’t catch people between events, because they were such good
soldiers. They were so excited to see Rudy Giuliani and then so excited
to see George Pataki and then, so excited for, I don’t know, Gerald
McRaney, formerly of TV’s “Major Dad.”

CP: So Republicans pay attention while the Democrats are
smoking cigarettes under the bleachers.

SC: Well, we hope it’s cigarettes.

CP:
How do you keep finding people to interview on “The Daily Show” who
either don’t know the interview is satirical or are willing to play
along?

SC: Everyone knows what the show is at this
point, but they don’t understand where we’re going with the
conversation. I talk to them for hours and you’re seeing the 3-4
questions that are important to my segment. They don’t necessarily
perceive a 3 minute edit out of a 3 hour conversation. I don’t make a
big deal out of being funny, and then we do our best to bring ‘em back
alive in editing.

CP: Some critics have accused “The
Daily Show” of being overly liberal though you have mix of Democrat and
Republican guests, and liberals are the butt of jokes sometimes. How do
you respond to the critique?

SC: Um, we are liberal, but
Jon’s very respectful of the Republican guests, and, listen, if
liberals were in power it would be easier to attack them, but
Republicans have the executive, legislative and judicial branches, so
making fun of Democrats is like kicking a child, so it’s just not worth
it.

CP: When’s the “Strangers With Candy” movie coming out?

SC: October 21 is when the movie comes out.

CP: That is so exciting; we can’t tell you how much we miss
that show.

SC: And the Colbert
Report starts that Monday, October the 17th.

CP: So you have a banner week!

SC: It’s going to be Oct-olbert, I’ve decided. That’s an
exclusive, haven’t used that line with anyone else!
AJ
User ID: 69495
United States
02/07/2006 01:09 PM
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Re: Five Minutes With: Stephen Colbert: Five Minutes in the ring with the Champeen
Colbert's show sucks....BORING!!!....he can't hold a candle to John Stewart.
Monty

User ID: 2477
Canada
02/07/2006 01:25 PM
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Re: Five Minutes With: Stephen Colbert: Five Minutes in the ring with the Champeen
I adore John Stewart but happened to catch Colbert today and laughed my ass off!
babbleon
User ID: 70909
United States
02/07/2006 01:58 PM
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Re: Five Minutes With: Stephen Colbert: Five Minutes in the ring with the Champeen
WORD

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it's not just for dogs anymore

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