Steven Colbert assisted Reddit in a fund raiser for DonorsChoose by agreeing to do an interview out of his television character if $500,000 was raised. I’ve reprinted some of the questions here beginning with his comments on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (text of his legendary talk here).
To this day I’m convinced that your appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was because the Bush Administration didn’t understand your show.
Did they? What happened behind the scenes there? Was it more “non-alcoholic beer in the Roosevelt Room” or “Dick Cheney peppering your limo with bird-shot as you beat a hasty retreat?”
I was as surprised as the next guy that I was invited to roast the President and the press corps that spring.
Here’s how it works. The White House Press Association (or some name close to that) actually does the inviting, not the President or White House. The president of the press association that year was a man named, I believe, Mark Smith, I think from the AP. He invited me. When all was said and done, I wrote to thank him and said I hoped I hadn’t made trouble for him. He said there was zero fallout.
As for the backstage aspects of the night, the President has a nice, small gathering in a room near the banquet hall. The presidential seal is etched into the granite on the floor. A few news anchors, football greats, cabinet members and advisors (I remember Rove and Chertoff, there were others I think), Rich Dahm, Allison Silverman, my brothers and sisters and mom, my wife Evie, and the President and Mrs. Bush. Let me say that the President could not have been nicer, especially to my mother. I have some lovely pictures of her with him. The President and I had a brief conversation before we went on stage. There were in total maybe 60 people at the party, many of whom I should remember more about, but I was pretty focused on my job that night. There was no backstage event after the dinner, but several parties around town.
I had my family up to our room for a drink then hit a party, don’t remember which one. We all had a great time. but I had no sense of public reaction until Monday at work.
On the complications of doing all interviews in character:
Do you sometimes wish you could not be in character for some interviews? Being in character, do you feel that it prevents some people from coming on the show?
Well these questions are really related. I’ll say that from my end of the interview, I often have a guest whose subject I happen to know a thing or two about, and I want to engage them intelligently, but I am an aggressively ignorant character. That is frustrating. Of course knowing their subject lets me make the dumbest possible characterizations of their position or idea. If you ever see me truly being vigorously dense with a guest, I probably know something of his or her subject. And as I said, yes, the character aspect may give some people pause.
In response to another question, Colbert also stated that, “No one doesn’t know I’m in character. I tell everyone first.” Of course it could also be said that the anchors on Fox and MSNBC’s opinion shows are also playing a character:
Jon Stewart’s interview on Rachel Maddow highlighted Jon’s philosophy on the difference between his role and the role of news people like Rachel Maddow.
What, in your mind, is the difference between your responsibility or job and the responsibility or job of a news anchor or 24 hour news host / personality? Do you feel you’re fulfilling your role? Do you feel they’re fulfilling theirs?
Thanks for doing what you do. You’re a funny, funny man.
I think Jon’s appearance on Rachel highlighted his ability to be pretty sharp after vomiting for eight hours.
As for the 24 cable hosts / personalities fulfilling their roles, you bet they do — as those roles are defined by their companies. If not, they are fired. The fact that the roles they fulfill are hard to recognize anymore, and have little to do with informing us, but are instead used to emotionally “engage” us with their brand personas, means I have a steady stream of material.
I too would be fired if I wasn’t fulfilling my role as defined by my company. Happily they define that as comedy, and I agree. I have no real responsibility beyond working hard on jokes.