THE SANTA CLARA
April 17, 2014
One of my less consequential regrets is not finding “The Colbert Report” sooner.
I’ve been a fan of Jon Stewart for years, but I never kept to the same channel when 11:30 p.m. arrived. It was only in the last two and a half years that I gave Stephen Colbert a chance, and I’m glad I did.
Now that Colbert has been selected to replace David Letterman on CBS starting next year, I’m counting the days until Colbert runs his course.
Colbert’s uber-conservative personality is also the show’s central premise: the use of reductio ad absurdum. The technique has been used in arguments for centuries, and follows the logic of taking one side’s ideas to an extreme and absurd conclusion. Colbert does this on every show, taking right-wing rhetoric and applying it to situations to expose it as ironic or downright hypocritical.
However, Colbert’s true genius has been not just in his character or his premise, but in the education he has provided while entertaining his viewers.
After the Supreme Court created super PACs — independent accounts for unlimited political donations — in its 2010 Citizens United ruling, Colbert created a super PAC of his own, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” Not only did he raise over a million dollars, Colbert’s numerous episodes revolving around the super PAC educated millions of people about the dangers of money in politics in a way that captured our attention.
Few people could have accomplished such a feat.
As Slate Magazine wrote earlier this week, Colbert also invites more scientists onto his program than almost anyone else on television, promoting the visibility and value of science by way of launching clearly absurd critiques at it. It’s a shame he has the week off, because I can only imagine what he would do with the news of a documentary being released that argues for geocentrism.
Yes, in 2014 apparently we’re still debating whether Earth goes around the sun. No wonder we still need Stephen Colbert.
Colbert’s humor has not always been appreciated. A recent “Cancel Colbert” movement started on Twitter last month in response to a tweet that seemed to portray Colbert as racist against Asians.
Colbert was not responsible for that account, and the point made was to play on the absurdity of similar outreach by the owner of Washington’s football team, Dan Snyder (I’m choosing, like many media outlets, to refuse to print the team’s name here).
Whether or not Colbert’s joke was offensive — even in full context — many outlets were unwilling to give the Snyder story coverage, and Colbert did.
Since news of Colbert’s departure broke, many have speculated on what Colbert will be like since he is not bringing his conservative character with him. I can only hope Colbert will put his own personal spin on it, much like how he didn’t rip off “The Daily Show,” but gave it a perfect partner.
Plus, it provides the opportunity to give someone else a chance to flex their comedic muscle on Comedy Central. My personal choice is Jessica Williams of “The Daily Show.”
Colbert could do several things to improve upon the traditional — and stale — late-night format, many of which he already does. Anchoring his monologue to one or two major topical issues would continue to both educate and entertain.
His choice of interview guests will also be important. Though CBS will likely want to stay focused on celebrities on promotion tours, if Colbert can add at least a few appearances a month from people such as Slate’s legal correspondent Emily Bazelon or physicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson, he could make late-night not only bearable, but culturally relevant.
My hope is that whatever Colbert does in his new venue, he continues not only to make us laugh, but to make us think as well.
Jonathan Tomczak is a senior political science and history double major and editor of the Opinion section.