Mourning Colbert

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Mourning Colbert: Why 'The Colbert Report' Matters in Ways Other Late Night Shows Do Not

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Trade News | April 16, 2014 | Comments ()


The human condition is the art of holding completely contradictory emotional responses in perfect tension in one’s heart. So I’m ecstatic that Stephen Colbert got the nod and gets to go to the big leagues, so to speak. I’m not one to sing Morrissey over someone getting the big promotion. But at the same time, it makes me deeply sad.

That little show on Comedy Central, that spinoff of a show that used to be Craig Kilborn’s version of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live, that had no expectations for it whatsoever, that show matters in a way that Late Night simply doesn’t and never will regardless of who they put behind the chair.

I’ve never been much a fan of any of the late night shows, though people I respect (see Dustin’s writing on Letterman over the years) certainly do. They’re just something that I flip through if I can’t sleep and don’t feel like reading, trying to find some rerun of a procedural or innocuous sitcom instead. As shows go, they’re fluff, descended from the old variety shows from the early years of television. And I can see how that would make for a fun gig for a performer, and can also see why it’s the sort of low-calorie entertainment that people like before nodding off. Different strokes, different folks, and all that.

But The Colbert Report matters.

On a nightly basis, in conjunction with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert’s satire has helped drive politics for the last decade. Relatively conservative himself, he waged a one man nightly war on the malfeasance of cable news programs by holding up a perfect satirical mirror to them. It was comedy, yes, but it also was an exercise in speaking truth to power. And the millions of viewers who took in that performance, predominantly the youth of this country, were educated day after day in the way that media twists politics.

It was a 10-year tour de force of performance art that changed the political landscape. And after so long doing the same thing in character, it’s understandable that he needs to move on, to do something like Late Night. I applaud him for getting that chance.

But it’s also tinged with sadness because someone who did something that truly mattered is moving on to something that doesn’t.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at You can email him here and order his novel here.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Green Lantern

    I don't really watch Colbert's show, but I can't agree with you more about its importance vis a vis another late night talk show.

    Congratulations, magnificent bastard. Cable will seriously, seriously miss you.

  • trackbackone

    Sadly, many don't understand how deliberate television works to satisfy convention. Mr. Colbert merely is throwing fish to seals. And if there was any real thinking going on there would be some development of thought.

  • manting

    Colbert cannot be replaced. His show was a character that he created, no one else can recreate that character. I will not watch him on the Late Show because I find those shows weak for the most part. I will miss him but at least we still got John Stewart.

  • DominaNefret

    I agree completely. When I heard the news, I was mostly just disappointed. This is part of why I really wanted Aisha Tyler to get the gig - not just because we need some female blood in the mix, but because my first thought was "oh no. This means no more Colbert Report. That is bad."

  • e jerry powell

    The last time we had female blood in the late night game, it was Joan Rivers being pissed off at Leno. That did not end well.

  • SottoVoce

    I, too, hoped she would get it.

  • e jerry powell

    I look at it like this: Steven's done yeoman's work with it, and now somebody else gets a turn. With any luck, it's Samantha Bee, the only Daily Show correspondent with a longer tenure than Colbert.

  • Katylalala

    I would ADORE and faithfully watch a Samantha Bee show. She is incredible.

    Hopefully the Comedy Central execs will consider how well Inside Amy Schumer is doing and give another lady a shot. And I hope Sam Bee is that lady.

  • mykal zimmerman

    If John Oliver was still avaliable I'd make that choice personally.

  • melancholicmess

    I'm not American but I get the humour and I especially love Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. It took a while for Comedy Central to start screening both shows so I missed a big part of both of their trails and now I catch what I can on YouTube. I was just starting to enjoy both of their shows and then now this happens.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm really thrilled for Colbert - I know this is the best thing that could happen to him professionally and no one has earned it more than him (I think) but a big part of his persona is his satirical way of presenting. His sarcasm and deadpan look always hit the nail right on the head that even if I didn't know what he was talking about, I always understood the humour anyway.

    Together, Colbert and Stewart helped me through what was the worst year of my life when I lost my dad and my mother in law in one year 2013. I'm so used to waking up to them (we get a delayed telecast here in the mornings in Europe) - I really don't know what I'm going to do once Colbert leaves.

  • Halbs

    Real question - As someone who leans right, I have always liked and respected Stewart. I own his books and have always appreciated his views. I've never really understood the Colbert character. It made more sense in the Bush era (speaking truth to power), but what has Colbert been critiquing since 08? Is Bill O'Reilly still a big enough deal to critique? I thought he even made nice with folks like Maddow?
    Maybe I don't get the appeal because I don't watch Fox News?

  • Sara_Tonin00 you watch Colbert? Because I think you would know if you did. Campaign finance laws. Hypocritical/moralizing politicians on both sides of the aisle. Media that is more blather and manufactured outrage than substance.

  • Halbs

    Thanks, Sara! I watched from when it started ('05?) to '07 or so. I've kept up with Colbert via Fallon but that has been about it since then. I guess I'll have to come back into the fold for the last few months.

  • Stephen Nein

    The obvious Colbert replacement . . is not a white male. 10 years ago, with the exception of some notables like the Coultergeist, FOX and conservative news was wall-to-wall privileged WASP drones.

    Not anymore - I think you could argue that the biggest bomb throwers in conservative news are women like: Scottie Hughes, Ashley Herzog, Laura Ingrham, Sarah Palin, Lila Rose, Monica Crowley, SE Cupp, Dana Loesch, Dana Perino.

    If we need a Colbert, these women tell us who the next Colbert is - it's someone like Aubrey Plaza or Natasha Leggero.

  • wonkeythemonkey

    Yes to all of that, except for Aubrey Plaza. Conservative blowhards are not low-key and sarcastic, and I can't imagine Plaza being anything but -- even in parody.

  • Stephen Nein

    I think Aubrey could pull it off, but you have point.

  • John W

    Agree 100%. I'm hoping that they continue the show in its current format with another DS alum like Samantha Bee.

  • juarhela

    YES. A million yesses. The Colbert Report was a great filter for the things in the media that were absurd, and it actually had relevance. The genius of Stephen Colbert is wasted on a network late-night talk show.

  • maddermonk

    "The Late Show"

  • John G.

    With his character, he could absolutely destroy the absurdities of our political landscape in a way that no one else really could, because that extra layer, the satire layer, creates this buffer that lets you get away with stuff that censorship would not normally allow.

  • BWeaves

    Has it been 10 years already?

    I seem to remember when the show first started, and I thought, there's no way this'll fly. But it did. He made a satirical personality incredibly likable. I will be sad to see the character go, but I can't believe he won't trot him out for a sketch here and there.

  • Wednesday

    I wrote it off initially as going to be stupid, like that "That's my Bush!" show on Comedy Central that lasted (thankfully) about two episodes. When the truth's so ridiculous, it's hard to parody it.

    Then came "truthiness", and I was a convert.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Not quite 10 years. It started in late 2005...I remember because I started a relationship shortly afterwards, and we bonded over Colbert mocking Cheney for shooting an old man in the face. Those were the first episodes I really had a chance to watch.

  • cruzzercruz

    Couldn't be more true. People like to joke that youths only get their news from programs like The Daily Show or Colbert, but that isn't entirely true. I get my news from many different places, but there's so much to consume, along with everything else in life, that shows like these help to filter what is and isn't a big deal. Helping people to see blatant hypocrisy and abuse of power in our society when we simply don't have the time or resources to investigate ourselves is something of value. And if it makes us laugh to make the pill easier to swallow, then it's even more effective. News media can deride Colbert and Stewart all they want, but it's out of fear and self preservation that they do. The Late Show may entertain me, but it'll never affect me.

  • DominaNefret

    The thing about the joke that "youths only get their news from programs like The Daily show or Colbert" is that it is missing the bigger picture. These two shows have created a generation of young people who are significantly more aware of current events than has previously been the case. Many of us get our news from other sources too, but I guarantee you that for a lot of young people, the reason for that is because of watching these two shows. They see something on the Daily Show or Colbert, become interested, and start looking for more information from other sources.
    Making news entertaining was a brilliant move.

  • There's a nice comment that a friend of mine once made comparing Stewart and Colbert's respective shows to Foucaultian and Lacanian critical perspectives-- Stewart working to use criticism of the news media system to explicitly argue about its hypocrisies, and Colbert using a form of over-identification to demonstrate the absurdity of the news media. There are few instances of individuals successfully using over-identification as a critical strategy, so it's a little sad to see this one go the way of the dodo.

  • Mrs. Julien

    All the yesses, I give to you.

  • Pants-are-a-must

    One can hope, though, that a young comedian could take on a similar mantle. Certainly Jessica Williams is very promising. The shadow of Colbert is enormous, but his writers are a big part of what made him so outstanding. We'll see what happens.

  • emmalita

    Yes! Thank you. The loss of Colbert, as a character, leaves a hole in US political commentary that needs to be filled.

  • John G.

    Steven, the AVClub and I agree with you.

  • VohaulsRevenge

    AV wrote what I was feeling, perfectly.

    The only bright spot to all this is that I'm really, really looking forward to John Oliver's new show.

  • kirbyjay

    I do too.

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