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Dec 16, 2014 11:20 AM

As Colbert exits, say farewell to his proxy

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) Dear Stephen,

Before you go, I just had to add my voice to all the others in Colbert Nation. On Thursday at 11:30 p.m. EST, you will end "The Colbert Report" after nine seasons of heroic truthiness. We will miss you like crazy.

I know, the flesh-and-blood performer with whom you share your name, the man who night after night gave you life and comic bluster, is moving on to even greater stardom: hosting "Late Show" on CBS.

And we fans can rejoice that, starting sometime next year, we will feast on twice as much of that Stephen a full hour nightly. But he has made it plain you won't be making the trip with him. You will no longer serve as his proxy. For that, Colbert Nation is bereft. We soon will be leaderless.

I realize you started out not as a guru but a spoof. Back in 1997, you were created as a "senior correspondent" for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Sparked by a messianic dose of certitude and hauteur, you both honored and lampooned Bill O'Reilly, the pundit who inspired you, and his Fox News Channel "Factor."

But you swiftly grew into more than a self-absorbed blowhard. You became a full-bodied proselytizer, with your belief system framing a funny-mirror image of your master's true designs. Preaching the antithesis, you claimed a special brand of ironic credibility. For the Colbert Nation faithful, you were a dependable bizarro-world lodestar.

You began with a bang your first night of the "Report" in October 2005. You noted how Americans are distressingly divided but not between Republicans and Democrats, or conservatives and liberals.

"We are divided between those who think with their head," you declared righteously, "and those who KNOW, with their HEART."

Whereupon you introduced the word "truthiness," defined as truth the way it should be that would never yield to facts.

At least you claimed to have coined that word, and it quickly caught on, even being named word of the year three months later by the American Dialect Society. Then, when an Associated Press story about the designation failed to credit you, you began a tongue-in-cheek crusade, railing that the AP's omission was a "journalistic travesty" akin to the much-criticized reporting on weapons of mass destruction that led up to the Iraq War.

"Except," you fumed, "people got hurt THIS time."

Keeping things truthy is a big part of your mission, as expressed on that long-ago opening night: "Anyone can read the news TO you. I promise to FEEL the news, AT you."

And for nine years, you have made good on your vow. But there was more than feeling underneath it. Your doltish pronouncements, once decoded for their satirical intent, served as some of TV's shrewdest analysis of politics, global affairs and the media.

For example, you recently responded to the lack of an indictment against the lawman who killed Michael Brown by stating airily, "For some reason, these protesters won't take 'It's legal to shoot an unarmed black man' for an answer."

You even boasted to your audience that "I broke the story about racial tension in America," then quickly added, "I ASSUME I broke the story. Like you, I get all my news from 'The Colbert Report.'"

No more.

Fortunately, "The Daily Show" proudly billed as a "fake news show" that nonetheless delivers news at least as responsibly as many "real" newscasts will carry on when you're gone. So will your fellow "Daily Show" alumnus John Oliver with his weekly HBO half-hour, "Last Week Tonight," which focuses on often-overlooked Big Think issues adorned with laughs.

But nothing will fill the void you and the "Report" will leave.

Stephen, you have been the product of a marathon of performance art unmatched in TV history. Whether working from a script or winging it, whether bloviating, interviewing or even playing the activist (your super PAC showed how money taints elections), the man who gave you life was masterful in how he inhabited you, always staying in character your "Stephen Colbert" character with only a twinkle in his eye to let the audience know HE knew that most of what he uttered was purposeful absurdity.

Now he is shelving you, his magnificent invention, to relaunch himself as host of "Late Show." He will drop the invisible mask you provided. He no longer will be you.

Which I why I wanted to tell you goodbye. And say thanks. For nine years on "The Colbert Report," we counted on you to tell it like it isn't, and that's been a real gift. So few can be trusted to tell it like it is.


EDITOR'S NOTE Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore





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