Among those upset about the end of Bill O’Reilly’s remarkable run at Fox News Channel: Stephen Colbert.
Not the actual Stephen Colbert, who spends considerable time these days needling and lampooning President Trump.
The character Stephen Colbert, of the late, great “Colbert Report.”
On that satirical show, which ended its Comedy Central run near the end of 2014, the actual Colbert played a fictional bloviator of the same name. His pompous, fearmongering character was a sendup of an entire class of cable-news blowhards — but took cues in particular from O’Reilly, the king of the genre.
Colbert left “Colbert” behind when he jumped to CBS. But after Wednesday’s announcement from 21st Century Fox that O’Reilly was out following revelations of a string of sexual harassment complaints, Colbert revived “Colbert” to pay tribute to his inspiration.
But first, some jokes!
“You know, over the years, I have talked one or two times about Fox News host and bold, fresh piece of humanity Bill O’Reilly,” Colbert, the actual, said in his “Late Show” monologue.
“Now, Bill and I did not see eye-to-eye on … anything,” he said. “I’ve done my share of jokes about him; I also stole his microwave once. It’s a true story; you can look it up.” (Editor’s note: Colbert gets zero Pinocchios for that one. “A spokesman for Fox News confirmed that Colbert stole the microwave, but said it was all in good fun,” the Associated Press reported a decade ago.)
Colbert continued: “He’s been a guest on this show, and I take no pleasure in his downfall. Okay? I’m not going to sit here and publicly gloat.”
The audience giggled.
“Jimmy, can you take the camera off me for just a second?” Colbert said.
The camera panned to Colbert’s desk.
Colbert made a gloating sound.
The audience roared.
O’Reilly announced last week that he was going on vacation and would be back at work April 24. Of his sudden ouster, just seven days after appearing on Fox, Colbert said: “It’s like looking at your front yard and the big oak tree is just gone. And sure, the oak tree said some disturbing things about young black men, what with their rap music and their neck tattoos.
“But dammit, the tree had been there forever. And your grandpa liked to just sit there and stare at it. And then the tree would sell your grandpa gold coins and self-lubricating catheters.”
Colbert then acknowledged the obvious.
“Here’s the thing: I owe a lot to Bill O’Reilly,” he said. “I spent over nine years playing a character based largely on him — and then 12 months in therapy to de-bloviate myself.
“So tonight, we at ‘The Late Show’ are proud to issue a statement from Bill O’Reilly’s biggest fan: Conservative pundit Stephen Colbert.”
On “The Late Show’s” YouTube channel, the caption for said statement reads: “A brash, loud-mouthed, far-right know-it-all has some parting words for a brash, loud-mouthed, far-right know-it-all.”
“Hello nation — and shame on you,” said Colbert, the character with the arched eyebrow. “You failed him; you failed Bill O’Reilly. You didn’t deserve this great man. All he ever did was have your back — and if you’re a woman, have a go at the front, too. And what, suddenly sexual harassment’s a crime? But that’s the country we live in now: Obama Trump’s America.”
He invited O’Reilly to join him and Jon Stewart at their mountain cabin.
And then he choked up, adding: “Stay strong, Papa Bear.”
O’Reilly appeared numerous times on “The Late Show,” on which Colbert called him “a cable-news superhero.”
“You’ve been on my show four times now,” Colbert said to O’Reilly in October. “And I always start with the same question: Bill, what the hell is going on?”
But their most memorable meetings took place a decade ago, during crossover appearances on Comedy Central and Fox News on Jan. 18, 2007.
As the Associated Press noted at the time: “Parody met its inspiration … when Stephen Colbert and Bill O’Reilly traded guest appearances on each other’s shows in an exchange that Colbert called ‘a meeting of the guts.’”
“This was a huge mistake, me coming on here,” O’Reilly said that night in Colbert’s studio, which, the AP reported, was “decorated for the occasion with a large ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner and a portrait of O’Reilly placed fireside.”
More from the AP:
Appearing in the “No Spin Zone” of “The O’Reilly Factor,” Colbert remained in character — though it wasn’t always easy to tell.
“Who are you? Are you Colbert or Colbert?” prodded O’Reilly, pronouncing the “T” in one case, leaving it silent in the other (as Colbert does on his program).
“Bill, I’m whoever you want me to be,” answered the comedian.
O’Reilly interviewed Colbert with a generally bemused attitude: “Don’t you owe me an enormous amount of money?” he wondered.
But not all of Colbert’s expectations were met. When he prompted O’Reilly to say who would win in a fight between him and his Fox News colleague Sean Hannity, O’Reilly demurred — and nearly upset the delicate balance of parody and reality.
“Hannity would kick my butt,” said O’Reilly. “I’m effete. I’m not a tough guy. This is all an act.”
Colbert retorted as though his mirror-image of O’Reilly had been broken: “If you’re an act, then what am I?”
Once the show was over and O’Reilly had left, Colbert turned to the studio audience as he exited the stage and said, finally out of character: “He seems like a nice enough guy.”