Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Colbert Report Says Goodbye

"I love being onstage," he said. "I love the relationship with the audience. I love the letting go, the sense of discovery, the improvising." Colbert also loves the freedom his television persona gives this down-to-earth, all-around decent guy to indulge his most narcissistic fantasies. "I get to piggyback my own ego on the character's unlimited ego," he says. This theme of porous but distinct personas is one Colbert returns to often. That night, when an audience member asked him about the differences between him and his character during a pre-taping Q&A, he replied, "I wouldn't want to be that asshole. He's got a tremendous ego. I get to pretend I don't."
The Colbert Report saw immediate critical and ratings successes, leading to various awards, including two prestigious Peabody Awards. The show's cultural influence—which occasionally would require a fair degree of participation from the show’s audience, dubbed the Colbert Nation—extended beyond the program a number of times. This impact included the character running for U.S. President twice, co-hosting a rally at the National Mall, presenting a controversial performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and establishing a real Super PAC that raised a million dollars:
  • The Colbert Report premiered in October 2005. In the debut episode, Colbert coined the word truthiness, defined as "a quality characterizing a "truth" that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively "from the gut" or because it "feels right" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts." Truthiness was named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster.
  • Colbert eventually coined a neologism to reflect this truthiness in action: Wikiality, which he defined as "a reality where, if enough people agree with a notion, it becomes the truth."
  • In 2006, Colbert encouraged fans to vote for his name to be the new name of a bridge in Hungary, which was being decided via an online poll; he beat the runner-up by more than 14 million votes. He was, however, disqualified, as the name of the bridge was intended to be a memoriam.
  • The show's popularity resulted in Colbert headlining the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner, which he performed in character. Colbert's performance quickly became an Internet and media sensation.
  • Colbert received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Knox College, Illinois on June 3, 2006; his credit as producer has been listed since that time as "Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A." (later changed in April 2009 to "Sir Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A." after Colbert was knighted by Queen Noor of Jordan in exchange for his support of the Global Zero Campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons).
  • New York governor-elect Eliot Spitzer and Henry Kissinger appeared on the show to preside over a guitar contest between Colbert and members of the indie-rock group the Decemberists. (Peter Frampton ended up filling in for Colbert, but that's a whole other story.)
  • In February 2007, Ben & Jerry's unveiled a new ice cream flavor in honor of Stephen Colbert, named Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream. All proceeds were donated to charity through the Stephen Colbert AmeriCone Dream Fund. It was the subject of an extended bit on the program, including the creation of the "Wriststrong" wrist band, based on Lance Armstrong's "Livestrong" wrist band, which donated all proceeds to the Yellow Ribbon Fund.
  • In April 2007, a Pew Research Center report cited both Colbert and The Daily Show viewers as more well-informed than those who gathered their information via newspapers, television news and radio.
  • Colbert was named one of People's Sexiest Men Alive, one of GQ's Men of the Year, and one of Time's 100 most influential people. And in August 2007, Richard Branson christened one of the planes used for Virgin America's inaugural flights "Air Colbert."
  • In 2008, East Carolina University associate professor Jason Bond named a species of trapdoor spider Aptostichus stephencolberti in honor of Stephen Colbert.
  • On the first of the four episodes in Baghdad, Iraq for the troops, Colbert had his head shaved on stage by General Ray Odierno who was jokingly "ordered" to do so by President Barack Obama, who appeared on the episode via a pre-recorded segment from the White House.
  • In 2010, while in character, Colbert appeared before judiciary subcommittee hearing on the issue of farm workers and immigration.
  • Colbert was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album in 2010 for A Colbert Christmas.
  • The Annenberg Public Policy Center reported in 2014 that the Colbert Super PAC segments (Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow) increased viewers' knowledge of PAC and 501(c)(4) campaign finance regulation more successfully than other types of news media.
  • And perhaps most surprisingly, more than three dozen congressmen and -women have subjected themselves to Colbert's merciless and occasionally demeaning ridicule as part of the show's ongoing series "Better Know a District."

“It’s bizarre,” remarked an admiring Jon Stewart, whose own program, “The Daily Show,” immediately precedes “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central and is where the Colbert character got his start. “Here is this fictional character who is now suddenly interacting in the real world. It’s so far up its own rear end,” he said, or words to that effect, “that you don’t know what to do except get high and sit in a room with a black light and a poster.”

In May 2008, The Colbert Report received a George F. Peabody Award recognizing its excellence in news and entertainment. On August 21, 2010, it was announced that The Colbert Report won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Program for its episodes broadcast from Iraq. In 2012, The Colbert Report won a second Peabody Award for its Super PAC-related coverage.

In 2013, The Colbert Report won two Emmys, one for Outstanding Variety Series and one for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series. The Colbert Report winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Series broke the longest winning streak in Emmy history, beating The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which dominated the Best Variety Series competition from 2003 to 2012. In 2014, The Colbert Report won the People's Choice Award for Favorite Late Night Talk Show Host.

The series finale on December 18, 2014 was watched by 2.481 million viewers, making it the most watched episode ever in the show's history. The finale was the most watched cable program of the night in its time slot, beating The Daily Show which was seen by 2.032 million viewers.

On one wall of the show's set, there is an artificial fireplace with the engraving "Videri Quam Esse," meaning, "to seem to be rather than to be"; it is a play off of the traditional Latin phrase "esse quam videri," or, "to be, rather than to seem to be," reflecting Colbert's mock right-wing personality.

Colbert at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner: "I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers, and rubble, and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message: that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound—with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."

More information:
» Paste: Colbert's 10 Greatest Moments on The Daily Show
» NY Daily News: The Colbert Report took home the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Series
» Vanity Fair (2007): "The Man in the Irony Mask"
» Rolling Stone: 30 Best 'Colbert Report' Bits

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