Thursday, March 22, 2012

And Nothing But the Truthiness (Novel 2011)

by DionysusPsyche

In the book written by Lisa Rogak, Stephen Colbert, television personality extraordinaire, reveals his life to us. The popular host of faux news show The Colbert Report and prior anchor on The Daily Show, Colbert's personal life remains largely a mystery to his audience.

The Young Stephen
From the moment America started watching Colbert both on The Daily Show and his spin-off The Colbert Report, people have wondered who the real Stephen is. “My name is Stephen Colbert, but I actually play someone on television named Stephen Colbert, who looks like me and talks like me, but who says things with a straight face [that] he doesn't mean.” When he joined as an anchor, he had his own name, at some point planning to change it over, but never got around to it.

The novel starts before Colbert was born with his parents. His father, James Colbert, made great headway as a doctor in the medical community, and his mother, Lorna dreamed of being a singer and actress. One of Colbert's biggest strengths is his family and hometown in Charlestown, which he references frequently on his show and in the book. “I've got to go home every so often to be recharged by my sun.”

As a young boy growing up, Colbert retreated into a world of fantasy and reading to enhance his current one which was hard. In order to grow as a man, he had to endure loss as a child and come out of it a better person. In high school, he became involved in acting, and that was an excellent use of his talent.
From there, he went on to major in theatre which evolved into his job at Second City, an improvisational comedy company in Chicago where he met Steve Carrell and Amy Sedaris. He eventually landed a spot on The Dana Carvey Show which led to The Daily Show.
The Daily Life
Colbert initially balked at doing news. “I didn't want to...because I hated Good Morning America, and I figured it was going to be the same type of show.” Yet, due to his first child, Colbert accepted the position and realized that he had a knack for news. Back in 1996, the show had just started, was barely heard of, and could get away with a lot. Unfortunately, Craig Kilborn, the host, had a bad relationship with the co-creator and most of the cast. They also mixed funny takes on real news with completely fake news, making weird bedfellows for anyone watching. Jon Stewart, a little known comedian and actor at the time took over for Craig Kilborn in 1998, and the entire show changed much to the applause of the critics and viewers.

Colbert had initially wanted to be a serious actor until he worked for Second City when he met Amy Sedaris, and a similar occurrence happened when he met Jon Stewart. Stewart's focus was on satirical news, and since Colbert had a background in writing his own scripts, he took a liking to the new direction. He began to enjoy television news programs for the first time. Stewart transformed The Daily Show into a “more organic” news source whilst making it comedic at the same time—like a longer version of SNL's Weekend Update.

Stephen and Jon
Colbert best describes his on screen personality in relationship to Stewart as “Jon deconstructs the news; he's ironic and detached, while I falsely construct the news, and I'm ironically attached. In fact, I'm not detached at all; I'm passionate about what I'm talking about. I illustrate the hypocrisy of a news item as a character. So while Jon's just being Jon on the show, conversely, that's me not being me, that's me being that Stephen Colbert guy.” He also said that although his duty in both Daily and Colbert was to make the audience laugh “[he] really wanted to make Jon laugh.”

The Daily Show has had to come up with some legal parameters in order to avoid being sued, which has happened when folks feel they are inaccurately represented. Colbert has been known to make good friends and enemies. His guests tend to fall into polarized groups: loving his show or hating it.
The Character Colbert
They were described as the opposite: Stewart being satirical, serious, and detached, while Colbert is upbeat, intense, and somewhat passive aggressive in his approach. Colbert explains that his background in improv solidified his ability to be on the two news stations where he has to be on his toes during interviews. During different interviews, he has to play with his character. If he's interviewing a scientist or an economic consultant, he has to take more serious approach asking questions that the viewers might ask, but if he's interviewing someone the audience knows more about, he has more freedom to let the character talk.

Colbert sites many influences to his character, the most obvious being Bill O'Reilly. Colbert refers to him as “Papa Bear” on his show and has had O'Reilly on his show and been invited onto O'Reilly's as well. Both instances were less than comfortable. “I was dissapointed that we couldn't actually come to an emotional or argumentative agreement over things. He saw the mirror that I was presenting and he didn't want to play.”

He has been asked to speak at several events, this reviewer's favorite being the one at the White House while President Bush II was in office. Colbert himself will admit that it was a night when he heard crickets among the invitees (politicians and journalists, go figure!), and it was one of the single hardest speech his writers ever had to come up with. Since Colbert's preference for media and “real” news has waned significantly since he started working in the news industry, there were a number of jokes targeted at the media that didn't endear the reporters to him anymore than they already had been.

More Than a Man
Colbert has done a number of charitable events, the most well known being his trip to Iraq to entertain the troops. He reports this to be one of his hardest shows, because the crew had to work out of two locations, different time zones, rigid rules through customs and countries. He even helped raise money for the Olympics during financial crisis in 2008.

He's inspired an ice cream flavor, endorsing a number of organizations and raising money for them, a published writer, a producer, and a family man. “You know what I like about comedy? You can't laugh and be afraid...sometimes you laugh because you're afraid, but when you laugh the fear goes away. That's why I don't ever think I could stop what I'm doing, because I just laugh all day long.”

As someone who enjoys comedic memoirs, I was unsure what to expect going into this book. I've found in the past that when you feel like you know someone as a character, it becomes impossible to extract them from that personality and when you do, your impressions are often shattered. You don't like them or aren't sure what to make of them. While I'm sure Stephen Colbert does this to many people, I genuinely enjoyed this book.

I admit, it might not be for everyone, but there is magic in reading about a comedian's life, and his is no exception. Just when you think that Colbert doesn't do enough, he pushes you. That is true for his character and his personal life. Rogak does an excellent job of portraying his life and essence.

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