I heard a possibly-apocryphal story that Stephen Colbert doesn’t allow his children to watch The Colbert Report—not because it’s past their bedtimes or anything like that, but because he doesn’t want his children to get the wrong impression of his character. Then there’s this from 2009: “Indeed, Colbert the character, a right-wing blowhard on a one-man mission to reeducate the ignorant, is convincing enough that a recent Ohio State University study found that a majority of conservatives polled believed Colbert the man was one of them.”
That this is on a certain level unsurprising is perhaps testament to the depth of Colbert’s achievement—Colbert is so good at acting the right-wing blowhard that is somewhat odd to think of him otherwise, or of thinking of him as less-than-convincing. We recognize intellectually, at least, that Colbert must be considerably more liberal than his act, but it’s hard to say exactly where his sympathies lie.
I can say that three things definitely arouse his sympathy, so much so that for the brief moments that the subject of the show is on these three subjects that the curtain parts and the “real” Colbert is shown: on veterans and soldiers, on the Catholic church, and (recently) on immigrants. There’s an arch wink behind most of Colbert befitting a satirist; there’s real passion behind, for example, his interview with Julian Assange, very obviously backing the troops.
Colbert being real-life Colbert is an excellent reason to keep on watching the show: it’s difficult to say what exactly he likes and dislikes beyond cant, which is so widespread these days this amounts to a firm ideological stand. The rest is just Colbert being ever-so-slightly more-obviously crazier than the craziness of the times, and who exactly guessed that we’d stay so crazy for so long?
His character may be crazy, but Colbert’s controlled: day after day, he keeps the character fresh and interesting, despite the fact that early in the show’s run, it seemed like a very boring piece of real estate to develop (or at least, repetitive, though at the risk of violating my original metaphor: is there repetitive real estate outside of, say, suburban development?). Yet here he is, for the better part of a decade: Stephen Colbert just might be the best actor alive.