Colbert marks his impending Comedy Central exit — with modesty

 

Stephen Colbert has almost never broken character on the “Colbert Report” and Thursday, the satirist delivered another performance as an oblivious, arrogant, out-of-touch Bill O’Reilly ripoff.

After news broke that he would be leaving the “Colbert Report” to take over David Letterman’s gig as the host of “Late Night,” we also learned that Colbert would not be taking his famous character with him to CBS.

That left much of the Internet wondering, well, just who the heck are they going to see when Letterman departs in 2015?

When Colbert has abandoned his “Report” persona, it’s usually been when he’s so overcome with genuine admiration for the person he’s addressing that he can’t help it. His tribute to his late mother and the end of his first interview with Stephen Sondheim are prime examples.

Colbert’s sincerity on such occasions can be pretty startling when you compare it to the man who marks Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by pulling out his Atone Phone. It’s a hotline, reachable at 1-888-OOPS-JEW. When the phone, which is white and covered with a blue Star of David, rings, it plays “Hava Nagila” — and the very publicly Catholic Colbert answers, “Shalom, how have you wronged me?”

Thursday night was a deft marriage of the best of the two Colberts: He didn’t break character, but the deference and affable nature that marks his out-of-character interviews was stamped all over the writing:

There was some big news last week that slipped through ma news crack, and it concerns someone I’ve admired for years and yet, surprisingly, is not me. I’m talking about David Letterman, who last Thursday night announced his retirement, and I am going to miss this good man. Dave has been on the air my entire adult life. “Late Night” debuted my first year in college. I learned more from watching Dave than I did from going to my classes. Especially the ones I did not go to because I stayed up until 1:30 watching Dave. This man has influenced every host who came after him and even a few who came before him, he is that good. And I gotta tell you, I do not envy whoever they try to put in that chair. Folks, those are huge, huge shoes to fill and some really big pants.

And that was it. Colbert said nothing else about his new job for the remainder of the show.

We may not know much about the man who’s been playing baby bear to Bill O’Reilly’s “Papa Bear” since 2005, but if nothing else, we know he’s a tightwad. Jennifer Garner was a guest on “The Daily Show” Thursday and talked about how she babysat Colbert’s firstborn.

“Now, when you were over there, could you, did you peg Stephen for greatness,” Stewart asked. “Was there something within him, or did you think to yourself, ‘Sure, 10 bucks an hour, fine?’”

Garner: “I was not making 10 bucks an hour, I’m sure of it.”

Stewart: “Really?”

Garner: “He’s so cheap —”

Stewart howled with elation. “Ohhhhhhh, BOOM! BOOM! I love it!”

“I’m sure he still owes me,” Garner said. “I don’t think he ever tipped either of us.” (Her then-roommate also babysat.)

Stewart honored his friend and Comedy Central co-conspirator (Stewart also executive-produced “The Colbert Report”) at the beginning of Thursday’s “Daily Show.”

“We spent all day looking up old stuff on the Internet of Stephen. It’s really fun. I mean, working. We were working,” Stewart said. “Truly one of the pleasures of doing this show has been trying to maintain professional composure whilst Mr. Colbert is making me laugh uncontrollably. So, the exciting news today is I no longer need a cable subscription for the privilege of watching Stephen Colbert.”

Stewart continued: “To be able to walk down Broadway and look up at the Ed Sullivan Theater marquee and see ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,’ assuming of course that’s where they tape it — there is also a theater across the street from us here, which I believe is currently referred to as “The Hustler Club” — also pretty familiar with the presence of Ed Sullivan. My point is this: Godspeed to both men.”

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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