Published on June 2nd, 2009 | by Sharilyn Johnson


Piece of the Colbert Report flying the coop

I’ve done the rounds of the New York talk show audience circuit. Martha Stewart, Letterman, Conan, etc. And, as my readers know, The Daily Show.

But the best? The show I can’t get enough of live? The Colbert Report, hands down.

The show is always a joy to attend. I use the word “joy” in the strongest sense. If you’ve never experienced Stephen running around the studio like a lunatic, screwing up his lines (almost always happens once per show!), and especially answering audience questions, you’re missing out. Here’s what we learned a few weeks ago:

What are you proudest of? My kids. And my Emmys – I tuck them in, kiss them goodnight…
When was your first kiss? Julia Pinker, making out in a car when he was a Junior in high school
Who are you nervous to meet? The most nervous was when meeting Steve Martin, but also paul Simon and Tom Hanks (who filmed a piece for the troops the previous weekend)
Also, we witnessed the taping of a now-rare toss between Stephen and Jon Stewart, during the preamble to which Stephen admitted they’d written too much material for the upcoming Middle East tapings (“we have like eight second acts”), so expect good stuff next month!

stephenaudBut the positive experience of a Colbert Report taping doesn’t just rest on Stephen’s shoulders.

In 2006, I planned a trip to New York in part to gather some comedy-related interviews for my old radio show, Laugh Tracks. I had my sights set on talking to a higher profile audience coordinator at a show like Letterman, but was pestered by a few friends to consider this guy Mark, who handled the audience for the then-new series The Colbert Report. They went on and on about how he’d been “so great” to them at the taping they went to.

I was certain their perception of “so great” was clouded by the excitement of seeing a real live tv taping, but I relented, sent in my interview request to Comedy Central, and waited for Mark Malkoff to call me and hammer out a meeting time.

I answered my cell in my best radio journalist voice, trying to cover the fact that I was in the middle of bra shopping (until now has no idea I was half-naked in a changeroom during our initial conversation). This happened to be the day that Amy Sedaris was the guest on the show, and when I inquired as to how the just-wrapped taping went, Mark indulged me with an enthusiastically detailed account of the infamous “tumbling” routine that Colbert, Sedaris, and Paul Dinello performed. I liked this guy already!

Mark was indeed a great interview, and I completely understood what my friends saw in him. He subsequently gave me a tour of the studio (didn’t have to), set me up with a sweet seat for that night’s taping (really didn’t have to) and even bumped me up to VIP when I returned a year later (really really didn’t have to).

And after the epically massive failure of the Daily Show audience coordinators on election night last year (well-documented in the archives, so I won’t get back into the details behind how or why hundreds of ticketed fans were denied entry), the first person I passed on the street afterward was Mark. When I told him what happened, he was almost as shocked as I was, and we agreed that it never would’ve happened at Colbert.

At the start of 2008, Mark’s role became not-quite-full-time so he could work on other projects. Remember the guy who visited every Manhattan Starbucks in one day? That was him. The guy who lived in IKEA for a week? Yep, that was Mark.

When I attended that taping a few weeks ago, as odds would have it, it was sadly sans Mark. My friend and I waited outside in line, and our blase nature was a magnet for Mark’s replacement that day. He came over to prod us, asked us if we were excited (“of course!”), and had we been to the show before (“of course!” for me, “no, only the Daily Show” for my friend).

“Well, we’re much better than the Daily Show,” he said.

I had barely started nodding and smirking when he stage-whispered “CUZ WE LET EVERYONE IN!”.

I turned to my friend, who already had his head in his hand.

“If he only knew,” I said with glee.

But of course, he surely did know. It shouldn’t surprise me that anyone at the Colbert Report – particularly in Mark’s department – would take pride in giving fans the best experience possible. And you can’t do that good a job without hearing time and time again about what a crummy job your rivals 2 blocks away do.

Mark has been as much a part of the Colbert Report taping experience as the comically long lineup for the women’s washroom in the holding room. And not just for me — fans of the show love the guy, and his Facebook and Twitter are riddled with past audience members. That says a lot about how someone does their normally-overlooked job. Based on everything I know about Mark and how he ran things, I’m going out on a very short limb by saying that he took his job pretty personally.

My switch to past tense is intentional, as last night was the first time Mark’s name didn’t appear in the credits of the Colbert Report. His decision to leave the show is a huge loss to the fans, but I have hope Mark’s mission of making tapings special and memorable experiences will continue.

I’m sure it won’t be without a few noticeable bumps (with Mark at the helm, fans who arrived in line first were rewarded with front-and-centre seats infront of Stephen’s desk. In his absence a few weeks ago, the girls with tickets #1-4 were annexed to the middle of the interview side, which honestly broke my heart a bit). But given the remaining staff’s vocal pride in treating their audiences right, I think future audience members are in good hands.

markBut back to Mark, and what he’s doing now. He has an awful lot up his sleeve, and the latest is a challenge that makes his IKEA camp-out seem easier than assembling a LACK side table. Mark is spending the month of June on an airplane. Yes, an airplane. Yes, he’s insane. Yes, this raises many questions, the answer to the first being “wetnaps”.

The full adventure is being documented on http://www.markonairtran.com and trust me, it’s well worth checking out.

This may be a silly/crazy stunt, but Mark is both very funny and “so great” a guy, which – if there’s any justice – will take him far. I hope when he gets big enough for Comedy Central to give him his own show, he’ll hire a kick-ass audience coordinator for us.

About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

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  • The Colbert Report A-Z

    Third Beat editor Sharilyn Johnson presents the ultimate fan guide to The Colbert Report, available from all major booksellers including amazon.com