Stephen Colbert to Time: I Didn’t Want to Be a Political Champion (?)

August 29th, 2015 9:04 AM

Stephen Colbert graces the cover of the latest issue of Time magazine and discusses why he folded The Colbert Report to take over David Letterman’s Late Show.

Only bits of the interview with Time TV writer James Poniewozik have been released online,  but it gives some insight on what to expect from the full interview. Most notably, Colbert claimed that when “in character” – a politically charged character – that he never wanted to come across as some sort of political hero or ambassador:

 “People had [political] expectations early on in that show following the Correspondents’ Dinner, which is why I almost never spoke about that,” (about his  takedown of President George W. Bush in 2006)...I didn’t want people’s expectations that I was anyone’s champion to overcome our intention, which was comedy. I don’t want to be anybody’s champion. That doesn’t sound funny.”

This doesn't note the possibility that Bush-haters finding anything mocking Bush to be funny. On leaving The Colbert Report, Colbert told Poniewozik:

“I still enjoyed it, but to model behavior, you have to consume that behavior on a regular basis. It became very hard to watch punditry of any kind, of whatever political stripe. I wouldn’t want anybody to mistake my comedy for engagement in punditry itself. And to change that expectation from an audience, or to change that need for me to be steeped in cable news and punditry, I had to actually leave. I had to change.”

For years, Colbert had been “in character” on his previous show and has promised an upcoming segment on the new show, titled “Who Am Me?” to let people get a better sense of who he is:

Toward the end of the last show, it was an act of discipline for me to continue to do the character. The discipline was not even just keeping the character’s point of view in mind or his agenda or a bible of his views, but there was also a need to not let people in, not let people see back stage—not necessarily know who I am so that the character can be the strongest suggestion in their mind when I do the show. If I let them know too much about me or our process, then I would be picking the character’s chicken. I don’t want to put so much light behind that particular stained glass or else he would fade completely.”

As usual, he tried to pitch himself as religious and middle-American, which was never his audience on Comedy Central:

I am a white, male, straight, Christian — Catholic, so, you know, Micro-soft Christian — American, who enjoys McDonald’s and Coca-Cola…For a lot of American history, I am American neutral. It makes me wonder why that is or whether that’s a good thing, but it’s also a great place to do comedy from because it oddly separates me from what I imagine a comedian is supposed to be. I am comfortably integrated into American society, and yet I am in a business that’s full of outsiders.

Colbert tries playing himself on The Late Show starting September 8.