Stephen Colbert on ideas that ‘could kill us all’ and the moment that changed his life – Los Angeles Times

Posted: August 18, 2017 at 12:46 pm


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Stephen Colberts desktop computer monitor is ringed with reminders Post-it notes (Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin), keepsakes (cards from musicians Regina Spektor and Jack White), directives (Ask yourself this question: Is my attitude worth catching?), affirmations (Enjoy life: It is better to be happy than wise) and one note that simply reads: History.

When not in use, Colberts computer screen defaults to a live feed of the Earth taken from the International Space Station. Right now, the view has just crossed the Nile, the sun is setting and clouds are casting long shadows across the Red Sea. Colbert looks at these images whenever hes feeling anxious. Theres the whole world, he tells himself. Calm down.

Professionally, at least, Colbert has little reason for worry these days. The Late Show With Stephen Colbert has reigned as late-nights top program since February, and the recent Russia Week segments featuring Colbert visiting Moscow and St. Petersburg drew nearly half a million more viewers than its closest competitor, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Its a remarkable reversal for Colbert, wholl be the first to admit that he stumbled out of the gate when The Late Show debuted on CBS in September 2015. I was not indulging my own instincts, Ill tell you that, Colbert says.

Thats no longer the case. Colberts blistering broadsides against Donald Trump and his revolving cast of subordinates have played to the 53-year-old hosts strengths, combining an intellectual rigor and bracing morality that make Colbert, in the words of Dave Chappelle, one of the most important voices in comedy.

Colbert, host of this years Emmys, took a break on a recent morning from preparing the show to talk about the trials and triumphs of the last two years. News alerts on his watch pinged a handful of times the Senate was moving on healthcare and Colbert, a focused man given to staying in the moment, fought against the distraction.

But you have to look, he says, glancing at his watch, apologizing. We add new material between 4:45 and 5:15 almost every night. [The show tapes around 5:30 p.m. Eastern time.] We dont want to wait until tomorrow. Theres an urgency now. We dont want to leave anything on the vine for the next day.

I dont know why I thought going from one show to the other and trying to change forms wouldnt be difficult and painful. But I had this weird feeling that it would be somehow easier than it was. Not easy. But easier.

You dont want to have the exhaustion and anxiety of trying to find a new voice, but its just part and parcel of it sometimes. And I realized I took the job so that would happen, and it comes with some rough road at first. I took the job to be challenged. I was getting a little bit on autopilot with the old show. And thats certainly not the case now.

We purposely threw out the baby with the bathwater. And we didnt realize it until a year in. So we re-indulged our appetites, if you know what I mean. Its not so much groove back as giving ourselves permission to do what we like. [Pauses.] We stepped away from politics to a fault. How about that?

The way to stay hopeful is to acknowledge and to not accept what is absolutely amoral, mentally ill behavior as normal.

Stephen Colbert

I was trying to do everything to a fault. I remember on the anniversary of doing the show for a year, I was shaving, looking in the mirror and, as I was wiping the last of the shaving cream off, I went, God, this is a hard year. Then I thought immediately, I wouldnt have traded it for anything. Because how would I have learned a new skill? How would I have learned to be able to do a monologue? How would I have changed my voice at all if it hadnt been for the challenge of this year?

Right. But every time I think that, I also have to remind myself how short I fall of what I hoped for when I said that. That poison cup, man. Its very hard not to drink from. Its very tasty.

Imperfectly. The way Ive tried to explain it both internally and to other people in the business, not the press is that, at our best, we dont engage in burning things to the ground. We point to things that are on fire and say, Do you think that should be on fire? I think that we can all agree its on fire, OK? Now, is that something we really want to burn to the ground?

And the problem with tone is: How close can I get to the fire without being in it? Cynicism is an enormous problem. Im actually a hopeful person. But the way to stay hopeful is to acknowledge and to not accept what is absolutely amoral, mentally ill behavior as normal.

To get children to boo and hoot. Better a millstone be tied around your neck and you be tossed in the deepest part of the river than you should scandalize one of these. Theres a moral heresy involved with the president getting children to engage in his own behavior.

Im not here to scold and, again, imperfectly, because you cant help but engage in that. The times you see me being my harshest or scolding, I promise you, thats not what we wrote. I just get swept up in the emotion of the moment while Im talking about it.

Its hard but thats part of the job, to maintain the discipline of pointing and not finger-wagging. Dont think youre changing the world through mime, as I like to say. Youre here as a release valve for peoples emotions. And thats a very valuable thing.

People would say, Oh, you say you just do jokes. I dont just do jokes. I do jokes. Jokes are important. They saved my life when I was younger. Hopefully were making things nicer at the end of the day for people. Thats the entire goal, and thats the touchstone and the North Star for the tone.

Im not familiar. Im not familiar. You say youve got a sock holder? I think I see the lawyers about to come in the room. Yes. That would be an example of perhaps letting my emotions get the best of me. Yes, I would say that would be in the fire, not dancing next to it.

(Laughs) I hadnt thought about it that way. That quotes a good guide for everything. That response arent all punishments Gods gifts? is such a bigger thought, bigger than a political thought. Thats a personal thought. And the personal is bigger than the political because the personal is almost unfathomable.

(Laughs) I do it all the time myself.

But you absolutely cant do it! Its a goal, but you absolutely cant do it. I dont think Ive ever said this in an interview, but when I was younger, my parents used to quote this French philosopher, Lon Bloy, who said that the only sadness is not to be a saint.

And I always think about that. Thats the great sadness, not to be perfect, meaning not to be a saint, not to see the world the way God does. Which is that everyone is going through a battle you know nothing about. But of course not, because Im sitting here making absolutely joyful fun of the Mooch [former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci]. Or Donald Trump.

But youre not talking about a person. Youre talking about ideas. Donald Trump, yes, hes somebodys little boy. But he is his ideas because his ideas are whats going to affect us. As a man, he can do very little. But his ideas could [pauses for drama] kill us all.

Fake news and fake media the interesting thing about that is that its a heresy against reality. Again, as a Catholic, I was taught that the greatest sin was heresy. Because not only are you a sinner, you are proselytizing and inviting other people into your sinful state through your heresy. Youre a recruiter for your own fallen state.

So Trump is a heretic against reality. Basically, hes lying for sport. Hes inviting people into his heresy that there is no objective reality.

I still carry a pocket Gideon around with me wherever I go.

Yes, I picked up a box of little pocket Gideons New Testament, Proverbs and Psalms from a Gideon on the street in Chicago. It was one of those 20-below days and it was so cold, I had to snap [the New Testament] over my knee to get the pages to turn.

And I immediately opened it to Matthew 5 and it was the Sermon on the Mount. Do not worry, for whom among you by worrying can change a hair on his head or add a cubit to the span of his life?

Really, that moment changed my life. I understood what it spoke to me meant because it didnt feel like I was reading it. I just felt like it was literally just talking.

That impulse toward gratitude is what originally relinked me to the idea of God.

Well, it's always the same thing which is to exist. Thats the baseline. Theres a great line from this Neutral Milk Hotel song [bangs on his desk] ... I think its In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It goes:

And when we meet on a cloud

Ill be laughing out loud

Ill be laughing with everyone I see

Cant believe how strange it is to be anything at all

So why is there something instead of nothing? Why am I here instead of nowhere? Thats the first thing I have to be aware of. And then Im grateful for my children and my wife. Thats first and then as the hymn goes, For the beauty of the earth comes after that.

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

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Stephen Colbert on ideas that 'could kill us all' and the moment that changed his life - Los Angeles Times

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August 18th, 2017 at 12:46 pm