One of Stephen Colbert’s most brilliant performances was at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, where he slyly mocked then-President George W. Bush and other Washington, D.C., bigwigs to their faces in a jaw-dropping keynote speech.
The “Late Night” host recalled that speech, made a decade ago in April, as he paid tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
“Not a lot of people laughed in the front row,” Colbert recalled. “Some people laughed at the back of the room, but the important people in the front row and on the dais — it was mostly silent when I gave the speech.”
Colbert aimed most of his mockery at Bush, whose poll numbers were plummeting plummeting at the time in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing Iraq War quagmire, but he also tossed a few barbs at Scalia — who had recently greeted a reporter’s question with an under-the-chin gesture considered by some to be obscene.
“When it was over, no one was even making eye contact with me,” Colbert remembered. “Now, the one exception was Antonin Scalia.”
Colbert teased the Supreme Court justice with a few rude Italian-style gestures, including biting his thumbnail — which is roughly equivalent to a middle finger salute — and Scalia rocked back and forth with laughter.
“After it was over, he came up to me — again, no one is talking to me in the whole damn room,” Colbert said. “And Antonin Scalia comes up to me and said, ‘It’s great, great. Did you give me one of these?'”
The justice then ripped off a bitten-thumb gesture of his own.
“Sir, would that be legal for me to do?” Colbert asked Scalia, and the justice assured him it would. “So I said, ‘Then, yeah, I gave you one of these.'”
Scalia roared with laughter, clapping his hands together and saying “great stuff” before bidding Colbert goodnight.
“I watched him go, and I thought, ‘Don’t you make me love you, old man,'” Colbert said. “I will be forever grateful for that moment of human contact that he gave me. So I would just like to say one last time, Justice Scalia — I salute you.”
Colbert then bit his thumb toward the departed jurist.
Watch the entire segment posted online by The Late Show With Stephen Colbert:
Watch Colbert’s speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner: