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 www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.