Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 27, 2007
By: Paul Glastris

COLBERT REPORT REPORT... With Stephen Colbert out running for president, Comedy Central has been running repeats of his show all this week. The result is that the episode that I was on, touting the Washington Monthly's college guide, got rebroadcast the last couple of nights.

So what's it like going on the Colbert Report? Well, it's taped in New York, at a small, funky studio on West 54th Street. When I got there last Monday at about 6:30 pm, four hours before the broadcast, there was already a line of people waiting for studio audience tickets. I was led inside, through a warren of offices, to a dressing room, on the doorframe of which was taped a paper sign with my name superimposed over a star (I made a mental note to grab the sign as a souvenir). Inside the dressing room were a couple small couches and a swivel chair in front of a vanity, with a plate of cheese and crackers and fruit to nibble on. There was also a cloth bag tote bag emblazoned with the show's name and filled with swag: perfume, lotions, fancy coffee, a bottle of high-end vodka (I made a mental note of which items to give to which family members of work colleagues).

After settling in with some friends from New York, I got to go inside the studio to watch Colbert rehearse. He was sitting behind his desk and had on his usual get-up--pinstriped suit, frameless glasses, slicked-back hair. He and his first guest, presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, ran through a fairly complicated sketch, which involved the Ohio congressman pulling various items out of his pocket (tasks which Kucinich performed flawlessly during the actual taping). The way Colbert carries himself is hard to describe: he's at once taut and loose, intense and relaxed. You could tell from the way he directed the cameramen and producers that he is very much The Boss. But he was pretty gentle with everyone, and during pauses in the action he would crack jokes, make faces, put his pen in his ear, and generally exhibit a comedian's irrepressible urge to entertain.

Then I was taken to the makeup room, where my face (and bald spot) was covered up with gunk, and then back to my dressing room. A few minutes before the taping, Colbert came by and introduced himself. He was quite personable as he gave me what I presume is his standard prep talk. The character I play, he said, is extremely opinionated and extremely ignorant. Don't get thrown off by the ridiculous questions I ask you. Just focus on making the points you want to make. (His producers had given me very similar advice: don't respond to his jokes, and for God's sakes don't try to joke back, just concentrate on getting your message out).

I mentioned to Colbert that he had gone to my alma mater, Northwestern. Yes indeed, he said, but remember, "My character went to Dartmouth." We also chatted about how he first studied comedic acting at the Improv Olympics in Chicago, where he got to know one of the troupe members, my friend and frat brother Noah Gregoropoulos. Among the cognoscenti, Improv Olympics is considered the more purist and less commercial form of Chicago-style improv comedy. There are no pre-written sketches built into the show, as is the case at Second City (where Colbert also performed). Improv Olympics specializes in "long form," meaning the sketches, inspired by audience suggestions, can go on as long as the actors can manage to keep them going. Pretty good training, I guess, for a guy whose whole show is basically an extended riff on one conceit.

Anyway, Colbert then went off to start the taping, and I was brought into the studio half an hour later, just as the Kucinich segment was finishing up. As they led me to the part of the set with the little table where the author interviews are done, I noticed Colbert at his desk, furiously editing the list of pre-written questions he was going to ask me (the improv impulse kicking in). As the taping began, I tried to ignore the lights and the audience and Colbert's out-of-nowhere questions and just focus on the task at hand. The only other person I know who's been on the show, journalist James Fallows, once told me that it's a bit disconcerting to be twelve inches away from a guy who's doing a very believable impression of a total lunatic. I had a similar experience, though in truth I think Colbert went relatively easy on me.

After the show, I got to meet Kucinich (who was smaller and more charming than I expected) and to chat more with Colbert. It was the day before Colbert was to announce for president--though I didn't know that at the time. I would have loved nothing more than to continue the conversation. Alas, I had to catch a plane back to DC. In my haste, I forgot to grab the little paper sign with my name on it. I did remember to take the bag of swag, but the TSA guards at the airport stripped me of all the fine liquids. I also managed to bring home for my daughter's 18th birthday a copy of Colbert's new book I Am America (And So Can You!) signed by the author. It reads "Dear Hope, Be strong! Stephen Colbert."

Paul Glastris 9:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Comments

Hey, thanks very much, Paul, for giving a very interesting glimpse behind the scenes with Colbert. Watching the very first "Colbert Report," I was intermittently mildly amused, but certain it wasn't something he could carry off night after night for very long. Boy, was I wrong.

Posted by: gyrfalcon on October 27, 2007 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

I enjoyed reading this, thanks!

Posted by: PTate in MN on October 27, 2007 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

I too wondered at the time the show began running how long the Colbert schtick could continue to be entertaining, but two years in it remains greatly amusing. A good one-man (or one-woman) show may appear on Broadway from time to time, but Colbert puts on four great one-man performances every week.

Posted by: fidelio on October 27, 2007 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, yeah yeah... c'mon, Paul. We all KNOW you're just sucking up cuz he promised to make you his Secretary of State.

Posted by: theAmericanist on October 27, 2007 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Just as being a good comedian must be more exacting and difficult than outward appearances would seem, so too I imagine is leading a state or federal government. Curiosity has me wondering though what Jon Stewart would do sitting in the White House. Desperate fantasies have me imagining his skepticism of government and those running it would mean a new approach to problems. His irreverence would be refreshing. He's very intelligent and imaginative, likely more so than many or most that have held the office. Arnold "runs" California with no more than an actor's background and the resulting popularity with the public. It would be great to have someone run for office on the platform "We're all tired of you dumb, crooked, incompetent bastards fucking everything up and the party is over!" I haven't reviewed every previous President's bio but I think each was either a current or former Senator, state Governor, House Rep or high ranking military. Hillary may break the gender barrier. One day maybe we'll see the pedigree barrier broken also.

Posted by: steve duncan on October 27, 2007 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, it sounds just like being on any FOX "quote" news "unquote" show. Ignore the lunatic interviewing and get your point out.

Posted by: George on October 27, 2007 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

thanks for that, what I admire most about stephen is his ability to make outrageous points and say shocking things as if they were serious, thus making it harder for the right to say serious things and pretend they aren't shocking.

Posted by: shrink in sf on October 27, 2007 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Colbert's presidential run brings back fond memories of Pat Paulsen.

Posted by: AJ on October 27, 2007 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

This was fun to read. Thanks for posting it.

Posted by: shortstop on October 27, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Wow. It's like someone I know knows someone famous. Good collection of insider details.

Posted by: Berken on October 27, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with everything written above.

Posted by: Disputo on October 27, 2007 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

The funniest part of the Colbert-Glastris segment was when Colbert called Texas A&M an agriculture and mining college. Glastris looked down, tried to keep from laughing, and regained his focus.

I’ll have to compliment Glastris. He did a pretty good job of making his points while sitting next to a lunatic.

Posted by: little ole jim from red state on October 27, 2007 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

Wonderful post, wonderful comment thread.

I always wondered if Colbert warned people of his character before the show.

Posted by: A different Matt on October 27, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

I always considered comedians to be funny as hell when they're performing and sad/fucked up/loathesome in their private lives.

Which is to say, I've never wanted to meet them or had any curiosity about what they're "really" like.

Or is that just the stereotype?

Posted by: Auto on October 27, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Colbert is less a comedian than an insanely skilled impersonator, Auto. He's not a Jerry Lewis or Robin Williams, both of whom I would consider fitting for that sad/lonely stereotype you mention. He seems incredibly well-adjusted, great family life, etc. (he even teaches Sunday School!). A recent article in Vanity Fair (I think) mentioned that his father and two (?) of his brothers died in a plane crash when he was pretty young, so maybe that's the darkness that drives him.

Saw a Report taping in January, great stuff. Like every other live taping, the studio is MUCH smaller than it appears onscreen, and it's oddly off-color in person, too.

Posted by: Jek Tansen on October 27, 2007 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on October 27, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

When Colbert first did his show, my brother hated it. He said to me that the gags were OK, but he should step out of character when doing the interviews. I disagreed. Now, my brother spends his days trying to imitate the boorish posturing Stephen affects.

I think I've seen the episode with Paul 3 times now. Funny stuff. Kucinich was hilarious. Paul did a great job with his spot, though (a longtime complaint about the show) the interview was too short.

Posted by: bigcat on October 27, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

It's amusing and relevative that so many liberals watch people like Colbert and Jon Stewart, the sportcaster on MSNBC and the guy on HBO. These guys convey just enough information and facts to convince an empty-headed viewer that he knows something. That explains why so many lib comments are so clever, insulting and idiotic.Posted by: mhr on October 27, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

It's amusing and revelative that so many wingnuts watch people like O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, the newscasters on FOX and listen to the complete nut job on radio. These guys convey an astounding amount of misinformation and lies to convince an empty-headed viewer that he knows something. That explains why so many wingnut comments are not remotely clever and are increasingly insulting and idiotic.



Posted by: e henry thripshaw on October 27, 2007 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Does seem to be true about Colbert's family life. Last month we took our grandkids to the Museum of Natural History in New York and there in the planetarium was Colbert with his son, looking very serious and dadly, going from one exhibit about the physics and chemistry of outer space to the next and duly discussing the meaning of each.

Posted by: Karl Weber on October 27, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

For anyone who hasn't seen his correspondence speech dinner.

The man stands as tall as anyone on television.

Posted by: Boronx on October 27, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

The Brotherhood of Bearded Liberals (BBL) have released a new video, delivering ransom demands for the safe release of a cleverly purloined copy of Stephen Colbert's "I am America (and so can you)." Take heed!

Posted by: bbl on October 27, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Boronx,

Yes! I was just going to mention the awesomeness of Colbert's press corps dinner speech. The beauty of it was that the audience didn't quite know how to respond to his humor-couched insults to Bush and friends. I couldn't believe my ears. Now I remember that there was some sort of 'complaint' afterwards but I forget the details. In any case, Colbert was incredibly brave.

Posted by: nepeta on October 27, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Heard Colbert on Fresh Air (Terry Gross is the best inteview on the air IMHO). He said there was quite a bit of laughter in the room, but mostly from the back, where there were no microphones to pick it up, and where the lesser attendees were sitting. The audience up front were the poobahs, both political and journalistic, whom Colbert was skewering, and their silence was indeed (comedy) golden.

As my hubby often says in first person present tense, "They resembled that remark."

Posted by: Cal Gal on October 27, 2007 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

The correspondent's dinner -- The press was astonished at the performance, calling it "not funny", etc. I guess it's hard to laugh when you're the butt of the joke. Neither Bush nor the Press got a free pass that night.

Posted by: absent observer on October 27, 2007 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

Agree with Boronx et al...correspondents' dinner was one of the great moments of television and political statement. TV audience here stood and cheered after recovering from the shock.

Posted by: monzie on October 27, 2007 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

The beauty of it was that the audience didn't quite know how to respond to his humor-couched insults to Bush and friends.

I think they didn't quite know how to respond largely because many of his funniest insults were directed at them -- the press.

Posted by: Gramps on October 27, 2007 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

Truly a stunning bit of bravery and wit, that correspondents dinner. and let's not forget the general atmosphere in the country when he pulled that off. i'm guessing bush was still somewhere around 50%.

no doubt about it, the man (colbert) has cojones.

Posted by: Fel on October 28, 2007 at 3:58 AM | PERMALINK

An excellent comedic writer must be extremely intelligent and very observant of people. Bob Hope, who was not intelligent, was a deliver of other’s genius. Asimov who could be very perceptive when not writing about science, wrote that the cold unimaginative mind of a conservative was not conducive to grasping humor and irony. Maybe the reason why the White House staff considered Colbert to one of them. Not to say that Colbert is not intelligent as he obviously writes a large portion of the material. I am unable to believe that one person could write it all in such a short period of time.

Posted by: Don Quixote on October 28, 2007 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

It showed how amazingly out of touch the typically serial double-dealing Bush was not to realize that Colbert plays a character. Bush's reaction at the Correspondents' Dinner was laughable, and Colbert was simply brilliant.

Thanks, Paul, for sharing such an inside view.
I thoroughly enjoyed my read.

Posted by: consider wisely always on October 28, 2007 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

Colbert at the press corp dinner restored hope. He walked into the lion's den armed with nothing but wit and skewered them all. Thanks for the interesting behind-the-scenes info.

Posted by: otherpaul on October 28, 2007 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you so much for your reporting on being a guest on Stephen Colbert's show. It's probably the closest I'll ever come to seeing the show live.

I saw your interview on The Colbert Report, and thought you did a great job staying on message. I can't imagine how you managed not to break into gales of laughter.

I also am pleasantly surprised the Colbert is able to keep his show going strong. I really didn't think he could carry it off beyond a half a season.

Posted by: grapeshot on October 28, 2007 at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

The important question is did you meet Mrs. Kucinich, who as far as willowy British redheads go is pretty nice, and proof to me that DK can't be that "kooky".

Posted by: Chris on October 29, 2007 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

Your blog is fine. I just need to comment on the design. Its too loud. Its doing manner too much and it takes away from what youve obtained to say --which I feel is actually important. I dont know in case you didnt suppose that your phrases may hold everyones consideration, but you were wrong. Anyway, in my language, there will not be much good source like this.

Posted by: so dep on January 27, 2011 at 7:24 AM | PERMALINK
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