From ‘truthiness’ to the rally to restore sanity and/or fear, Stephen Colbert, whose show ends tonight, created some of the sharpest political satire TV has seen
Stephen Colbert is dead . Well, I should say that “Stephen Colbert,” the dim-witted egomaniac played by Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report, is dead. He will be dying tonight, when Comedy Central airs the final episode of the show. The real Colbert is going on to host the Late Show on CBS, but who is going to remember this character he created that just happens to have the same name, the same face, and wear the same underwear? We shall. Before he shuffles off this mortal coil forever, here are Stephen Colbert’s best moments as “Stephen Colbert” on The Colbert Report.
In his first night in the chair, 17 October 2005, Colbert had one of the biggest hits of his run, debuting the word “truthiness.” Everyone understood how conservative politicians and Fox News would use feelings and fake statistics and pretend that they were the same as facts, but no one had a word for it yet. Colbert discovered that word (the word of the year for 2006) and perfectly undermined its use by calling attention to its absurdity.
2. Great late night fight
It was one thing for Colbert and Jon Stewart to show up in each other’s programs, but it took something serious for a big network star like Conan O’Brien to arrive at both The Colbert Report and The Daily Show on the same night. In 2008, being forced to do their shows during the writers’ strike , these three resorted to a silly feud over who made Mike Huckabee popular. The fight was far more memorable than Huckabee’s political career.
3. A bridge in Hungary
The amazing thing about Colbert was, much like the right-wing media figures he lampooned, he could mobilise his rabid fan base to effect all sorts of change in the real world. In 2006 he hijacked the online poll to name a bridge under construction in Hungary, garnering 17 million votes to have the bridge named in his honor. He easily won the poll, but when the Hungarian ambassador came to award him, Colbert discovered he had to be dead to have a monument named after him in Hungary. Still, this proved that Colbert had an army he could marshal in any sort of real or absurd way he could dream up.
4. People who are destroying America
Colbert’s most effective tool was always showing how ridiculous his political opposition was by being just like them. In this segment Colbert tries to force the residents of a small town in Kentucky to admit that their gay mayor is destroying their town. They won’t bite, and instead of getting a villain in Johnny Cummings, the mayor in question, we end up with a hero instead.
5. Colbert remembers his mother
Usually when Colbert is eliciting emotion it’s through laughter, but in 2013 he took things in a different route, delivering a heartfelt dedication to his mother, who had just passed away at 93. Try to make it through this one without a lump in your throat. I dare you.
6. The rally to restore sanity and/or fear
Plenty of people watched The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, but how many of them would actually travel to Washington DC to see the two hold a political rally? Turns out more than 200,000 who trekked to the National Mall in 2010. For his part, Colbert expertly aped the irrational fear-mongering that often goes on at events of this type held by the Tea Party.
7. White House Correspondents’ Dinner
Several people walked out of Colbert’s set at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but when the clip of him making fun of George Bush’s poll numbers and policies in Iraq hit the internet, it made him a sensation and helped cement his fledgling show as one to watch. You have to say something about a man brave enough to speak truth to power right to their faces, and not flinch when they bomb in the room, knowing that his real audience would totally get the joke.
Just this March Colbert faced a bunch of people who don’t understand satire when they took offence at a joke he made and started a #CancelColbert hashtag on Twitter. (Little did they know he would cancel himself in April when he announced his new gig at The Late Show.) Colbert joked that if the Washington Redskins could start a charity for Native Americans, he was going to start the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever. This is a perfect example of how expertly Colbert could dismantle his critics.
9. Suq Madiq
You can say a lot of things about Stephen Colbert, but he never let on that he was in on his own joke. One of the few times he broke down was in 2011 when he was thanking one of the many heroes who contributed to his SuperPAC. The man’s name was Suq Madiq. The ensuing giggle fit would even make Anderson Cooper proud . The SuperPAC raised more than $1m by 2012 thanks to great Americans like Madiq.
10. Better know a district
One of the best segments on the show was always the 435-part series Better Know a District, where Colbert would interview actual members of Congress about their districts, usually using a set of intricately constructed questions designed to make them say something stupid. The section hit the jackpot when the representatives didn’t even need his questions to show off their stupidity, like this segment with New York’s Yvette Clark where she demonstrates she doesn’t understand how time travel works and doesn’t know when slavery ended in New York.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
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