After nine years, Stephen Colbert is retiring the character he created for The Colbert Report, the conservative, self-important blowhard who opines about the news and the media. The final episode airs Thursday. Colbert will take over as host for The Late Show, replacing the retiring David Letterman. Since The Colbert Report began, Colbert has seldom appeared in the media out of character. He got his start satirizing the news as a correspondent on The Daily Show, which he joined in 1997 when Craig Kilborn was hosting. Jon Stewart took over two years later. In 2005, Colbert left The Daily Show and created The Colbert Report. For it, he created a character that he calls “passionate.”
“He is closely attached and invested in the stories he’s talking about and in the themes that he’s talking about,” Colbert told Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross after 23 shows aired. “He cares deeply about what happens in this country and he just doesn’t know a lot about what happens in this country. And so he gets little — you know, little glimpses of things. He has little snatches of information and then he makes broad generalizations based upon that.” The next year, Colbert was the featured comic at the White House Correspondents Dinner. But because The Colbert Report was still less than a year old, a lot of the politicians, operatives and journalists in the audience weren’t familiar with the character and didn’t know quite how to take what Colbert was saying.
Then Colbert took his character into the real world. He was granted a right to have a superPAC in 2011 — and the saga taught many people about the overt and covert ways that superPACs raise and donate large sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. In character, he held a press conference outside the Federal Election Commission. “We were injecting ourselves into the news and illustrating what was ridiculous rather than talking about what’s ridiculous,” Colbert says. “And at our show’s best, that’s what we do.” Colbert created a new approach to satirizing the news and the news media. He performed his show from Iraq with an audience of American troops and raised enough money to make Colbert Nation the primary sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating team in the 2010 Winter Olympics. He testified on Capitol Hill — in persona — using satire to call attention to the problems faced by migrant farmworkers. And last week, President Obama not only was Colbert’s interview guest; the president sat in Colbert’s anchor chair and did an installment of the regular feature The Word. Fresh Air pays tribute to Colbert’s tenure on his show with pieces from six different interviews since 2005. MORE
DAILY BEAST: The only supercut of Colbert that would truly capture his brilliance would be to simply run every episode of the show in order from the beginning, but here’s one that’s under four minutes. MORE
MOTHER JONES: “Stephen Colbert,” the character, is indisputably a brilliant creation. I watched every week because “Stephen Colbert” attacked right-wing media by embodying its most outlandish traits; the more sincere he was, the more searing and audacious the satire. He was sophisticated and simple at the same time. He gave viewers an amazing gift: temporary relief from the political divide by skewering idiocy at its source. (My colleague Inae Oh has compiled some of his best segments today). It was a wildly impressive formula, in part for the stamina it required from Stephen Colbert, the comic. As fellow performer Jimmy Fallon told the New York Times this week: “I was one of those who said, ‘He’ll do it for six months and then he’ll move on.’…It’s gets old. But not this. He’s a genius.” That’s what makes the above podcast, Working, With David Plotz, so fascinating: It’s Colbert, in his own words, out of character, describing his daily routine of getting into character; a real craftsman. It also reveals the vulnerable human performer within; a real artist. Broadcaster and media critic Brooke Gladstone said back in April that Colbert “seems to be a modest man, too modest perhaps, to see that by lightly shedding the cap of his creation, he’s depriving us all of a national treasure.” Long live Colbert. MORE
PHAWKER: In the time of kings, only the jester dared speak the truth without losing his head. It’s hard to remember now how much courage it took to say these things back in 2006, to speak such unvarnished truth to power — more specifically, the most powerful man on Earth, especially when he is eating right next to you. In doing so, he almost singlehandedly broke the spell of fear and loathing and groveling obeisance Bush-Cheney had cast over the nation during the preceding six years. I will go so far as to say Obama would not have been elected in 2008 if this hadn’t happened — like John The Baptist preparing the way of the Messiah. At least Colbert kept up his end of the deal.