Friday, April 16, 2010

Colbert Bender.

Hello, my name is Catherine, and I'm on a Colbert Bender.

Many of my friends and readers (but why, if they aren't my friends, do they read this tripe?) know I have the kind of benign addictive personality that, when the (extended) mood strikes, will make me consume some sort of entertainment ad infinitum.

Well, it's Stephen Colbert's turn.

This last month has been a blur, and it is owing in no small part to my brother-in-law teaching me how to download torrents. I got all three seasons of "Strangers With Candy," and the short-lived but important "Exit 57," a sketch show with Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello (on whom I could also develop a crush, if I could see him in more stuff).

Note: I unwittingly pushed our household over our downloading limit for the month and will have to pay the penalty when the bill comes in. Worth it? Yes. Yes, it is.

Early Colbert.

My earliest introduction to Colbert was on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," where he was not only a correspondent, but I believe was the first Senior Correspondent. Ooh-la-la. This was the Petri dish where Colbert developed his hard-nosed, windbag, right-wing newsman character that he uses on "The Colbert Report."

When he was on "The Daily Show," I especially enjoyed Even Stephven. It was a segment where Colbert and Steve Carell skewered programs in which two pundits berate one another's intelligence because they have differing opinions. This was my first introduction to Colbert breaking down into sobs - one of my favourite weapons in Colbert's comedy arsenal, and it pre-dated "The Daily Show."

There was one legendary piece on "The Daily Show" where Colbert was reporting "from London" on a allegation that Prince Charles had had a gay experience with a servant. Colbert's very uncharacteristic uncontrollable corpsing makes this a real gut-buster. I watched it on a loop when I was in grad school, until my roommate started to worry about me.

In the Comedy Central TV show "Strangers With Candy," Colbert plays Chuck Noblet, a closeted high school teacher who has a secret relationship with Mr. Jellineck, the art teacher. This is so titillating to me. [Sidebar: why is it such mainstream knowledge that many men get turned on by the idea of two women "together," but it's not as mainstream that two men getting it on could turn on a woman? I think this is a much bigger discussion about sexuality and social custom. Maybe that's for a later post.] Somehow, "Strangers With Candy" got away with such filth, I doubt it would go to air today, even on basic cable. The show was modelled on after-school specials, but the main character (a 46-year old ex-junkie whore who goes back to school, played by Amy Sedaris, who is once and again more than thrilled to make herself unattractive as an actor) is based on Florrie Fisher.

Why are you pushing me away?
I'm not pushing you away. I'm pulling me towards myself.

The Man.

I have long enjoyed satire. It's a dignified sarcasm. Colbert can do satire because he has the looks and the smarts. He looks like any other part-in-the-hair, pin-in-the-lapel newsman, which makes him the perfect sleeper to subvert from within. He is incredibly quick and witty, and seems to have some sort of perfect recall. All this gives him a great deal of power, but he's also very kind. He tells Charlie Rose in an interview, which I strongly recommend you watch, that he doesn't want to ambush people and make them feel like dirt, but wants to point out their silliness nonetheless. He also shows his humility by expressing his wonder that Jon Stewart considers him a peer.
Colbert is a family man and maybe I'm at a place in my life where that's attractive. He's a Roman Catholic and a family man. Well, I can look past the Catholic part. I like candles... Anyhow: he has said he doesn't want his kids to see the Report because he doesn't want them to think he's insincere. He doesn't think kids can understand satire. He's right - you have to balance too many factors to make and understand satire.

I think it would be difficult to have a character that has the same name as you. There are many differences between Stephen Colbert and Sir Dr. Stephen Colbert, D.F.A., but because they look the same and have the same (basic) name, that must be trying at times. Bret and Jemaine from "Flight of the Conchords" said they had the same problem, playing characters which had their own names which they didn't resemble in real life. Anyhow, Dr. Colbert is a corporate schill, an addict, a pretentious windbag, and a closeted homosexual - an amalgam of those he's satirizing, all in one Brooks Brothers-wrapped package. A one-stop-shop.

The Voice.

Colbert has a beautiful singing voice and we don't hear it enough. I think the first time most of us heard it was on the Christmas Special, but from time to time on the Report, he sings with a guest. I love this duet with John Legend, singing a Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney song. (Check out the killer work on the key change.)

When Elvis Costello was on the Report last November, Elvis had a sore throat, but he accompanied Colbert on guitar. There's a moment at the end of the song where Colbert grins, breaking character, and I imagine it's because he had just said to himself, starstruck, "Holy shit. Elvis Costello is three feet away and I'm singing his song while he plays guitar." Colbert's vocal somersaults and bittersweet sincerity is fantastic. Because of the Christmas Special and this appearance on the Report, I started to investigate Costello's music and I was missing out in such a big way. [Anyhow, this is also for another post, but suffice it to say: me+Elvis=happy.]
These are two examples, I believe, of Colbert making loyal friends. Both Legend and Costello both appeared on the Christmas Special.

The Christmas Special.

The Special, whose full title is "A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!" is a genius send-up of old-school Christmas shows, slapped together and phoned in with shitty production value and hollow sentiment. Colbert so broadly lip-syncs and minces about his three-walled "mountain cabin," there's no way anyone could ever think he really means it. But no, some critics thought he was for real, and gave the Special tepid reviews. I think it's genius, and not only because he sings and dances and hits on every guest under the mistletoe, but because the original music is so so so smart. When my friend Sunny and I performed "Can I Interest You In Hannukah?" at my ukulele jam in December, we brought down the flippin' huppa. It also required me to call Sunny "you Jew" on stage. (I was less nervous about calling her a Jew than I was having the audience think I was a Christian.)

So, to close a conversation that I'm far from finished having, Stephen Colbert is an important entertainer who has nestled his full, lustrous head of hair to my bosom. If he were ever to find himself in Toronto, I would invite him into my home, make him a fresh mojito, and I would play my ukulele and we would sing all night long, probably while his wife frantically describes his kidnapper to the RCMP.

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