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Published on May 13th, 2010 | by Sharilyn Johnson

5

All the Report’s a stage, the men and women merely players.

I like Deepak Chopra. I really do. I’ve picked up a few of his books. I followed him on Twitter for a while (until that dark day when he was stuck in an airport with nothing to do but tweet).

But when I sat 20 feet away from him at Wednesday’s taping of the Colbert Report, I wanted to run onto the stage and slap the rhinestone-encrusted glasses right off his face.

Chopra is the latest in a string of recent guests who just doesn’t understand the game of the Colbert Report, and makes the terrible choice to call Stephen out for being a comedian. Chopra’s was the worst example I’ve seen in the history of the show.

If you missed it, Chopra was promoting his book The Shadow Effect, which talks about the dark/embarrassing side we all have. He began to analyze Stephen’s shadow, which started out great – he called him pompous, self-absorbed, etc. Clearly talking about the “Stephen Colbert” character. So far, so good.

But when he presented the idea that everyone’s shadow comes with a gift, it all went wrong. Stephen’s gift, he says, “is to provide comic relief to America.”

Oh shit, no he di’int.

Despite Stephen’s best efforts to deflect and justify the betrayal against the game, Chopra refused to let it go.

Here’s the problem: A huge part of the joy we take in being fans of the Report is the knowledge that “Stephen Colbert” and Stephen Colbert are two different people. The real Stephen is comedian. The character is not.

As the audience, we’re in conspiracy with Stephen to keep this character real for the purpose of comedy. We all know the reality. We’re all just putting on a show. But there’s a sense of mischievousness surrounding this secret we’re all pretending to keep, and it’s pretty damn fun.

The best way to ruin our collective game of make-believe is to – like Chopra did – refer to Stephen as a comedian.

It was done a few times earlier in the show’s run. In 2006, Nora Ephron gleefully pointed out that Stephen had a “personality change” since they’d last worked together, leaving even Stephen too surprised to deflect. In 2007, Mike Wallace called Stephen’s style “comical”, which he was slightly better prepared to handle.

The show has been around for five years, and I thought we were getting past this problem simply because of its ever-heightening profile. But the game-ruining trend seems to be returning, though generally not with celebrity guests. A few times recently, a lower-profile guest brought on earlier in the show has been responsible.

But why is this still happening at all? Before each show, a guest is briefed on the fact that Stephen is playing a character. He tells them to “disabuse me of my ignorance”. Do they need to be told more?

Colbert has fun – as he says – “wearing the character loosely”. He breaks character just often enough to let us know he’s still under there, and there was that recent interview with Gorillaz which was a mind-blowing meta experiment.

HE’S allowed to poke holes in his own character. When someone else does it, it’s vandalism. And while it’s not exactly a matter of life and death – and Stephen almost always improvises his way around it – it takes us all out of the moment. It’s unfair to the viewers and unfair to Stephen.

So I implore you, future guests of the Colbert Report: stop ruining our fun.

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About the Author

is the author of the new 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 since 1998. 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.


5 Responses to All the Report’s a stage, the men and women merely players.

  1. Peter Cianfarani says:

    ALL comedians have a persona they portray. Despite how long comedy has been around, people still think the person on stage is the person off stage; when the man behind the curtain is exposed, it runs the fun for everyone.

    Having said this, nothing will change and every now and again, someone, whether intentional or not, will spoil our fun. As comedians, we have to deal with it and try our best to make it up to our fans.

  2. SC says:

    You appear to be asking that everyone else, including Colbert’s guests, be complicit in the game that Stephen Colbert-character (and *you*) want to play. In the game Stephen unbalances the guest, gets the quips, makes fun of and deliberately twists points and arguments into absurdity, and gets to ask the unanswerable question. “Stephen Colbert” is always supposed to win.

    It is Colbert’s show; he can develop his character any way he wishes. However, it is in the guest’s interest — who has a different set of goals by being on the show than to simply bask in audience adoration (scripted or not) of Colbert — to not let that happen, to not be just another piece of “no holds barred, no logic” comic fodder for the host. Colbert proves or disproves his mettle with the vaunted Improv background by being able to take it and dish it in relative character with an unknown quantity.

    Your observation that a guest taking it to Colbert, be it the character or the man behind it, throws him somewhat off his persona is true. You may be annoyed by these slips or perceived missteps, but your thought that it’s the fault of the guest, not the Colbert act itself, is a bit of wanting to kill the messenger.

  3. Sharilyn says:

    SC – thank you for your comment.

    “You appear to be asking that everyone else, including Colbert’s guests, be complicit in the game that Stephen Colbert-character (and *you*) want to play. In the game Stephen unbalances the guest, gets the quips, makes fun of and deliberately twists points and arguments into absurdity, and gets to ask the unanswerable question.”

    The game that the Stephen Colbert character wants to play is different than the game Stephen Colbert the comedian (and me, and the audience) wants to play.

    The game you describe is closer to that of the character — the so-called “nailing” of the guest. Stephen the comedian generally does not want to make the guest feel that way. As he says, “I’m not an assassin”.

    Before the show, Stephen tells each and every guest backstage the best way for them to react to his character’s questions. “My character is an idiot. Disabuse me of my ignorance.” (See this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21Z-IaMV3Pc) Basically, treat the character like a real (stupid) person, and just concentrate on getting your message out there. Anyone who doesn’t follow this either does so out of fear (and gets flustered), or pomposity or ignorance (and ruins the game).

    “You may be annoyed by these slips or perceived missteps, but your thought that it’s the fault of the guest, not the Colbert act itself, is a bit of wanting to kill the messenger.”

    By that logic, a loose bull doing thousands of dollars worth of damage would be the fault of the china shop owner.

    So I respectfully disagree, but I appreciate the thoughtful debate.

  4. SC says:

    Bulldogs and china shops is peculiar analogy when complaining about about others not wanting to play a specific satirist’s game! If one invites a bulldog into a china shop, who is to blame — the bulldog? Comedy is tough business; insistence that others should “play according to MY rules” is a deeply uncomedic principle.

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