Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

About to see a lack of character

As "Colbert Report" wraps up, its host sheds a persona that's served him well.

Cable TV is going to be less funny without the fake Stephen Colbert.
Cable TV is going to be less funny without the fake Stephen Colbert.Read more

* THE COLBERT REPORT. 11:30 tonight, Comedy Central.

I'LL MISS Stephen Colbert.

Not the smart, funny guy who'll be taking over CBS' "Late Show" from David Letterman next year, but the gleefully obtuse persona who's entertained Comedy Central viewers for nine seasons of "The Colbert Report."

That Stephen Colbert's run ends tonight.

The character who in his first show coined the word "truthiness" to describe a certainty stronger than facts or logic leaves a gap I wouldn't then have imagined could exist.

Spun off from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," he started out as a cable-news blowhard in the mold of Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. But he long ago left the shadow of the man he calls "Papa Bear," giving free rein to his own geeky joys and reaching apotheosis last week in a fiery interview with the dragon Smaug from "The Hobbit."

There's not much joy in cable news.

There's not much joy these days, either, on the cable-satirizing "Daily Show," where Stewart is still funny but clearly also sometimes frustrated and angry, no doubt because he has a heart and a mind. Even a satirical look at the news involves ugly stuff.

Maybe it's the ability to filter all that through another personality that allows Colbert to appear so much happier. Maybe the real Colbert is just more cheerful.

Or maybe he realizes anger is not the answer.

Cynical people on the extreme edges of our divided country have figured out ways to make money off our differences.

Colbert's satire has been merciless toward at least some of those people, but it's been kinder to us, the manipulated masses. When his character talks, as he did the other night, about wanting to live in "the idea of America," I don't hear a slam against Fox viewers, or conservatives. I hear instead sympathy for all of us who sometimes cling to our beliefs in the face of facts.

Truthiness has its appeals.

It's a little sad to think that the real Colbert will, by this time next year, be another stop on the A-list celebrity promotion merry-go-round. His Comedy Central guests have ranged from the famous to the obscure, and because he (mostly) stays in character, the interviews have been unlike any on television.

"I say the same thing to everyone, which is, 'I'm ignorant, willfully ignorant, about what you're going to talk about,' " Colbert (the nonfictional one) told me in a 2008 interview. "But I'm going to be passionate about it. Disabuse me of my ignorance with what you believe to be the truth of your belief or your book or your political position. Because that genuine resistance to my ignorance is where the comedy happens."

It's also where actual information sometimes escapes.

Change can be good. Stewart took the summer of 2013 off and not only did we get a pretty good movie out of it - if you can still find "Rosewater" in a theater, go - but guest host John Oliver got a platform, leading to HBO's hilarious (and informative) "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver."

On Jan. 19, another "Daily Show" contributor gets his shot at fake news as "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore" premieres in Colbert's old spot.

Wilmore, a writer and producer ("The Bernie Mac Show," "The PJs") as well as a performer, is a funny guy and a first-rate satirist. So while I haven't seen more than a promo yet, I'm hopeful.

And available at 11:30, prepared to be entertained.

Phone: 215-854-5950

" @elgray