Back when Stephen Colbert was on The Daily Show, he also used to do radio-ad voiceover work for extra money. I was a junior copywriter working on a shit-ass cell-phone account when our agency hired Colbert (who worked for scale at the time) to enter a recording studio and do a series of 60-second retail spots. They weren't even guaranteed to air, and in fact, they never did—these were just advance demos to convince the client to sign off on the campaign.
Anyway, I was a big fan, and I had that whole fantasy where a famous comedian comes into the studio and reads my stupid joke about pot roast and thinks it's so HIGH-LARIOUS that he just has to tell his bosses about the hot young upstart they NEED to get on staff at The Daily Show. This did not happen, of course. I remained a copywriter for terrible AT&T ads. But Colbert was awesome. He was kind and friendly and funny, and he went to the trouble of adding a bit of his improvised brilliance to a series of ads that we all knew wouldn't amount to anything.
This was the "real" Stephen Colbert, so to speak: the Colbert who'll apparently be replacing David Letterman over on CBS next year. I assume the network and their new host agreed to that because a) Colbert's version of Late Show will probably be less political than his Comedy Central show, and b) he probably wants to try something new anyway. For nearly a decade, the guy has managed to host a show in character without it getting tired or schticky (to me, at least), which seems impossible. I don't know how he does it, but he makes it look really, really easy. He's one of those genius comedians who can make his face look precisely the way he wants it to at any given moment.
In real life, Colbert is far more gentle than his Comedy Central alter ego. He is a religious man who lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash back in 1974. But even in his Clark Kent persona, he's a genius at improvisation who can leap into different characters any time he sees fit. Within his Comedy Central show, he toggles between numerous personalities—paranoid maniac, scorned ex-lover, horny Latin American TV host, etc.—all from the base of a fictional character, which is some Inception-level shit. Now he'll be able to branch out from the base of his "real" self, which offers even more possibilities.
The day he recorded those ads for us, he came into the editing room and talked about Winona Ryder coming into The Daily Show for an interview that week. And when he did, he suddenly morphed from Normal Stephen into a whole other guy. I'm gonna paraphrase the transition here:
NORMAL COLBERT: "She was cool! She was very charming and very sweet…"
OTHER COLBERT: "...and she is a beautiful flower sent here by the gods and I MUST PROTECT HER."
And then he went back to being himself instantly. Because he's a goddamn genius. I know there are people who don't like Colbert at all, or don't want him selling out to THE MAN or whatever, but if there's anyone out there who can pull an Aaron Rodgers and fill in seamlessly for an icon, it's that guy. Sometimes a huge news story will break, and there will be some commenter out there who you NEED to hear from when the shit goes down, some pundit or comedian or talk-show host who you happen to inherently trust. For some people, that means Jon Stewart. For others, it's Rush Limbaugh. For me, Colbert is that guy. And it doesn't matter if it's the real one or the fake one.
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