Published on December 15th, 2010 | by Sharilyn Johnson


A Meta Proposal

From the “huh, that’s neat” files…

If you caught Monday night’s Colbert Report, you’ll recall that the subject of The Word – Ted Turner’s population control ideas – was a natural fit for the thick layer of Jonathan Swift A Modest Proposal references. What you probably don’t know is that famous piece of satire is very front-of-mind for the Colbert writers, especially as it relates to The Word.

A few years back I was fortunate enough to take a course called Writing For the Colbert Report, from then head writer (now executive producer) Tom Purcell. Writing The Word is tough, boy, and it was a multi-week process to lead us through writing just one of ’em. Tom’s first piece of advice to us? Read A Modest Proposal.

The structure of the verbal essay portion of The Word mirrors that of A Modest Proposal, which is essentially: the argument, a heightening of the argument, and then a further extension of the argument that takes it to a ridiculous degree.

If you’ve never read the piece, it’s online in full. Quite the match, eh? If not for the 1729 linguistics, you could almost hear Colbert himself delivering it.

If you missed Monday’s show, Americans can watch it here and Canadians can cross their fingers and hope to find it here.

Just a small meta moment worth sharing. The more you know!


Since I’m talking about Colbert writers I’ve sat in front of in a classroom, Eric Drysdale – possibly the only sketch writing teacher who can draw iron-clad parallels between architecture and comedy – has released a cool little project. It’s a Viewmaster reel! Yup, exactly the kind of Viewmaster reel you’re thinking about. Eric is hardcore into 3D photography (or stereoscopy), and his Man With F.E.E.E.T. set is now available online from berezin.com.

Eric was the first comedy writer I ever met, suffering through my awkward requests for an autograph and photo during one of my first trips to New York. He holds none of that against me today, which I think is awfully kind of him. So buy his awesome thing, ok?

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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