RIP “Stephen Colbert,” 1997-2014
“The American political scene has lost one of its towering characters with the untimely demise of Stephen Colbert,” Rolling Stone says in its obituary for the character that departs tonight. “He was 50. Feared by many, hated by some, watched by all, Colbert leaves an uncertain legacy for the media he revolutionized and the culture he altered. Without him on TV four nights a week, there is a truth-shaped hole in our national political discourse.”
Colbert is easily comparable to Mark Twain
“What compares to 'The Colbert Report' in the history of American entertainment and humor,” says Hank Stuever, “in which the material and the society that it lampooned were so intertwined? The work of Mark Twain easily comes to mind (another case of a talented writer and cultural commentator inhabiting a fully realized persona at just the right moment), and, to a lesser degree, so does the work of Will Rogers. Both men are inextricably identified with the kind of America they lived in and the kind of technology it invented – from telegraph wires and a burgeoning print media industry to the eventual wonders of radio and film.” PLUS: “Truthiness” was one of the best “Colbert” moments, Colbert paying tribute to his mom was another great moment, we”re losing one of TV”s greatest characters, he was the most inspired political activist of the 21st century, “Cheating Death With Dr. Stephen Colbert, D.F.A.” was one of late-night”s funniest bits, analyzing Colbert”s introductory phrases, watch the ultimate “Colbert” supercut, Colbert”s most genius moments, 11 times the fake Colbert did something real, Colbert was late-night”s most passionate book nerd, remembering Colbert”s most awkward interviews, Colbert”s genius was apparent in the 1st episode, Colbert”s 10-best “Better Know a District” segments, Colbert”s best musical moments, here's ranking every “Colbert” bit, recalling Colbert”s real-life controversies, 13 Colbert cameos you might have missed, why “Colbert”s” interviews are irreplaceable, and relive the 10 most iconic moments from each year.
4 Colbert “enemies” bid him farewell
Suey Park, Google, Jimmy Fallon and “Crappy” Canton, Georgia Mayor Gene Hobgood react to Colbert”s departure. Says Google: “We respect Stephen and his show very much. It”s always hard to know the true measure of a man-and we”ve certainly had our differences-but we can say without an inch of a doubt, he”s reached new heights in comedy.” PLUS: Colbert”s 12 biggest adversaries.
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“Colbert, at his core, is a kind humanist”
“There is a gentleness to Colbert, the real one, the quiet South Carolina native who still teaches Sunday school and regularly quotes scripture, that is more unique in television than his wit or even his improv talent,” says Will Leitch. “Colbert is seen by those who don”t understand him solely as a cutting satirist, and sometimes he is, but that misses much of the point: Colbert, at his core, is a kind humanist.” Leitch adds: “Colbert is a comedian, and there have been many times that his show has made strong political points, but he is not inherently a political comedian. The politics were (sometimes, though less and less as the show aged) the canvas, but the comedy was always the paint.”
Colbert by the numbers
0 = Number of actual districts Colbert visited for “Better Know a District.”
When he moves to CBS, Stephen Colbert will need a lack of personality
“Blankness,” says David Berry, “is an admittedly odd quality to praise in a performer, especially one whose name is going to make up the title of the show, but there are few qualities that are more important to the longevity of a late night host. Even when they start with some new spark or personality, the day-in, day-out grind has a way of polishing them into an invisible sheen.”
Here are Colbert”s most frequent guests
Andrew Sullivan is No. 1 with nine appearances, followed by Neil deGrasse Tyson (eight) and Mike Huckabee (seven).
Colbert”s exit is unique in TV history
As Ken Tucker notes, “I can't think of any other performer who wasn't in a sitcom or a drama who has shed his self-created character to move on to a new career opportunity: being himself. Unless Pee-wee Herman had a post-playhouse talk show I'm not aware of, Colbert is ending as he began: a complete original, a revolutionary in a rep tie.”
How Colbert”s perfect parody beat Jon Stewart at his own game
Sure, Stewart created “Colbert,” says Rebecca Tucker. But as she points out, “While Stewart became helpless in the face of the comedy of errors presented to him as headlines night after night (seriously, re-watch any broadcast of The Daily Show from 2000-2008 and count how many times Stewart”s head hits the desk), Colbert was empowered. A blurred line between satire and reality only served to highlight a character whose M.O. had always been delivering truthiness – itself an invented concept meant to signify an agenda-driven massaging of the facts that, with the advent of birthers, pretty much became a real thing.
Colbert is signing off at the perfect time
As Daniel D”Addario points out, “The parts of conservative media that Colbert satirized-the perpetual attempts to frame every issue as political in a manner that flatters the GOP viewpoint-have been mainstreamed. So too has outlandish freedom with language and wildly provocative claims. When you”ve got Fox News medical experts calling the First Lady fat on TV in real life, how can a satirist raise the stakes.”
Colbert will need conservative viewers to succeed at CBS
So thinks late-night expert Bill Carter: “Colbert has alienated some conservative viewers, clearly, by the way he's mocked them, and he's going to have to smooth that out. He can't cut off part of the audience. I think the guy is super bright, and he's going to understand all of this. I think his approach will be, 'Yeah, that was my former persona, and this is now a different guy,' and he'll present himself differently.”
Good riddance to “Stephen Colbert”
Here are reasons why the end of “The Colbert Report” is such a great thing, including that it got old and Colbert”s character is not that funny at this point.