Actor and comedian
Born April 20, 1964, in Charleston, SC; married Evelyn McGee; children: three. Education: Attended Hampden-Sydney College, c. 1982–84; graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in theater, 1986.
Addresses: Agent —William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Home —Montclair, NJ.
Actor, television writer, screenwriter, author, and producer. Actor, Second City Improv Theater, Chicago, IL, c. 1986–90; also appeared in productions at the Annoyance Theatre, Chicago, IL; moved to New York City; made television debut on the Comedy Central series Exit 57 , 1995; writer-performer, The Dana Carvey Show , ABC, 1996; writer for Saturday Night Live , 1996–97; correspondent for Good Morning America , c. 1997; writer-performer, correspondent, The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn , Comedy Central, 1997–99; writer-performer, correspondent, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart , Comedy Central, 1999–2005; writer, executive producer, and host, The Colbert Report , Comedy Central, 2005–. Has also appeared on the Comedy Central series Strangers with Candy (also writer), 1999–2000; provided voices for the animated television series Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law , 2001–06, and appeared in television commercials for General Motors' "Mr. Goodwrench," c. 2003–04. Film appearances include: Snow Days , 2001; Bewitched , 2005; Strangers with Candy , 2005. Author of books, including: Wig-field: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not (with Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello), Hyperion, 2003; America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction (with Daily Show writers), Warner Books, 2004.
Awards: Co-recipient of Emmy Award for best writing for a variety, musical, or comedy series, 2004, 2005, and 2006, for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart .
Stephen Colbert spent several years as one of the fake-news correspondents on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart before landing his own Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report , in late 2005. This faux-commentary program, which airs weeknights following The Daily Show , features Colbert as a bombastic news pundit who harangues his guests and continually reminds viewers that he is standing up for their rights. The comedian experienced his genuine moment of stardom in April of 2006, however, when he poked fun at the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and the journalists assigned to cover it during the keynote speech at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Writing in New York magazine, Adam Sternbergh called Colbert's turn on the dais "the night that vaulted him from a cult-TV comedian to a lantern-wielding folk hero in the dark."
A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Colbert was the last of eleven children in his family, and his early life was marked by tragedy. He was deaf in one ear, which happened when "I had this weird tumor," he explained with his characteristic humor to David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker , "and they scooped it out with a melon baller." When he was ten years old, his physician-father and two of his brothers were among the 69 killed in a 1974 plane crash in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Nothing made any sense after my father and my brothers died," Colbert told Bryce Donovan in an interview that appeared in the Charleston Post and Courier . "I kind of just shut off." On the day of a funeral, Colbert said he picked up a book to read, finished it, and read a new one every day for the next eight years. A self-professed geek by the time he reached his teens, he was an ardent fan of science fiction, and also gravitated toward the works of Lord of the Rings novelist J. R. R. Tolkien and the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.
Colbert broke free of an innate shyness in his teens when he discovered he could make others laugh. At the venerable Charleston private school he attended, Porter-Gaud, he was voted class clown during his senior year. Though he was active in a Charleston theater group, he decided to pursue a degree in philosophy at Hampden-Sydney College of Virginia before reconsidering and transferring to Northwestern University in the Chicago area as a theater major. After graduating in 1986, he joined Chicago's renowned Second City Improv Theater troupe. In the summer of 1988 he signed on with its touring company and spent the next two years on the road.
Moving to New York City furthered Colbert's career prospects. His television debut came in early 1995 with Exit 57 , a sketch comedy series that aired on Comedy Central. Colbert appeared in it and wrote material as well, along with two other Second City alumni, Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello. The series was short-lived, but it helped Colbert land a writing job with Saturday Night Live for the 1996–97 season, where the "Ambiguously Gay Duo" action-hero spoof was his most memorable co-creation (with Robert Smigel). He also wrote for The Dana Carvey Show on ABC, and even appeared in a few episodes. That led, in turn, to an offer to become a correspondent for ABC's weekday-morning staple, Good Morning America , but only one story of Colbert's ever made it to airtime. Around this same time, he was invited to audition for a correspondent's slot on a new Comedy Central series, The Daily Show . "I really didn't want to do [it] because I hated Good Morning America , and I figured it was going to be the same type [of] thing," he told Donovan in the Charleston Post and Courier interview.
But The Daily Show was created to poke fun at the mock-seriousness of television news, and Colbert's deadpan humor was a perfect fit. In January of 1999, comedian Jon Stewart took over from original Daily Show host Craig Kilborn, and ratings began to inch upward. Colbert wrote his own skits, which featured his on-air, same-name persona: a buttoned-up, unctuous television journalist whom Colbert has described in many interviews as "a well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot," most recently to a real-life news correspondent, Morley Safer of CBS News in an interview that aired on 60 Minutes in 2006. Colbert also began appearing on episodes of Strangers with Candy , the bizarre comedy series from Sedaris and Dinello that began airing on Comedy Central in 1999. Colbert was cast as the creepy high school teacher Chuck Noblet who helps Sedaris' misfit Jerri Blank navigate her way through a midlife return to school. He appeared in the 2005 film version of Strangers with Candy , and also had a role in the Will Ferrell/Nicole Kidman feature film Bewitched that same year.
By this point, The Daily Show had gained an immense viewership, and real-life pundits even cited its influence on public opinion during the 2004 campaign season. The show's regular reports, running under the banner "Indecision 2004," spoofed mainstream news coverage of the presidential and Congressional races, including the two national conventions. Colbert contributed to a best-selling 2004 tome, America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction , with other writers for the show. His on-air persona appeared to be of Republican leanings, and his Daily Show office even sported a 1972 campaign poster for Richard M. Nixon, the two-term Republican forced from office in 1974. "That's when I became aware of the abuse of power," he told Robin Finn, a writer for the New York Times . "I became a true believer. I'm the last of eleven kids; my brothers and sisters, with just two exceptions, are all Republicans, and they always used to say to me, 'Why are you such a pinko?'" In the same interview, he claimed he would fit in seamlessly at the Republican convention because of his straight-arrow looks, and asserted that The Daily Show 's mission at the 2004 event was "to find out actual information about Republicans. We want to know where the pods are, where they're grown, and we want to photograph them before they're harvested."
The remark was a rare candid one from a performer who began to give interviews consistently in character as his blowhard correspondent, who pronounces his name "cole-BEAR." In the fall of 2005, the " Cole-BEAR Re-PORE ," as it was dubbed, began airing on Comedy Central immediately after The Daily Show , complete with the standard "hand-off" between Stewart and Colbert, just as the outgoing and incoming cable-news anchors chat live for a moment. The Colbert Report took a different approach than its parent hit, however, featuring Colbert as a starchy, haranguing host similar to the conservative pundits who dominate CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. In his debut episode, Colbert promised viewers "truthiness," which was different from actual "truth." "I'm not a fan of facts," the host explained, according to Marc Peyser in Newsweek . "You see, facts can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the facts are."
The term was picked up immediately by American journalists, and soon became a pejorative catchword used to describe White House tactics in dealing with the public and an inquisitive media. Frank Rich, the op-ed columnist for the New York Times , titled one of his Sunday columns "Truthiness 101: From Frey to Alito" in January of 2006. Rich mentioned the publishing-world scandal over James Frey's purported memoir, A Million Little Pieces , and the Senate confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. "What matters most now is whether a story can be sold as truth, preferably on television," Rich asserted. "Colbert's slinging of the word 'truthiness' caught on instantaneously last year precisely because we live in the age of truthiness."
The Colbert Report had several regular features, including "This Week in God" and "Formidable Opponent," in which Colbert debated himself. Its mainstay, however, was the parade of politicians, authors, and other figures who appeared as his guests. Not surprisingly, Colbert and his staff rarely managed to book any Republican politicians, especially after John Mica, a Republican House of Representatives member from Florida, appeared and Colbert inquired, "Do you have to take your toupee off when you go through security?"
Six months after The Colbert Report debuted, Colbert found himself at the center of a minor media controversy when he appeared as the featured speaker at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. The annual event is a known for the good-natured drubbing the Washington press corps and White House staff—including the president—give one another in a series of speeches and skits, but Colbert's keynote address went down as one of the most memorable in the Dinner's history. With President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush just a few feet away, Colbert began by asserting, "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," he started off, according to New York 's Sternbergh. "And that sends a powerful message: that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound—with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."
Further jibes in Colbert's speech included a comparison to himself and Bush in which he claimed, "[we're] not so different … we're not brainiacs on the nerd patrol," he was quoted as saying in the New York Times . "Guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking 'in reality.' And reality has a well-known liberal bias." Colbert's speech at the Dinner was aired on C-SPAN, but as word of his take-down spread, clips of it began appearing on the website YouTube.com, and were viewed 2.7 million times in a mere two-day period. Real-life journalists and pundits weighed in on the matter, with some praising Colbert and others asserting he had crossed the line into insult and disrespect. A year later, the White House Correspondents' Association avoided controversy by inviting veteran nightclub comedian Rich Little—best known for his impersonations of Richard Nixon 30 years earlier—to deliver the keynote address.
Colbert's opinionated, deadly serious tone on The Colbert Report is often compared to that of Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly, host of The O'Reilly Factor . One evening in January of 2007, each appeared as guests on the other's show. O'Reilly is famous for his contentious style and well-publicized media wars with Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC, but "deserves credit for being a good sport, because his was the thankless role," noted New York Times television critic Alessandra Stanley. On The Colbert Report , its host "suggested that Mr. O'Reilly was a bit of a brawler. Mr. O'Reilly demurred with a joke. 'I'm effete,' he protested. 'This is all an act,'" Stanley wrote, at which "Colbert leaned forward and said in a deep, dramatic voice, 'If you're an act, then what am I?'"
Like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report is taped in New York City, and Colbert lives in nearby Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife and three children, who are not allowed to watch their father's nightly performance. "I say things in a very flat manner that I don't believe, and I don't want them to perceive Daddy as insincere," he explained to Peyser in Newsweek about the ban on the show in his household. "I basically tell them I'm professionally ridiculous."
Charleston Post and Courier , April 29, 2006.
Entertainment Weekly , October 21, 2005, p. 34.
Newsweek , February 13, 2006, p. 50.
New York , October 16, 2006, p. 22.
New Yorker , July 25, 2005, p. 38.
New York Times , August 27, 2004; January 22, 2006; February 26, 2006; May 3, 2006; January 19, 2007.
Time , November 14, 2005, p. 68.
"The Colbert Report," CBS News, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/04/27/60minutes/main1553506.shtml (May 7, 2007).