Stephen Colbert has proven that if you have a public forum, and act like you're one of the greatest people alive and deserve to be treated like it, you can achieve nearly anything.
The show's origin. After struggling to find a show to follow The Daily Show (Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, Weekend at the DL, etc.), the producers of TDS pitched an idea: Stephen Colbert parodying Bill O'Reilly. That one phrase got the head of Comedy Central to OK the show for a two month run. Without ever filming a pilot.
The show's origin dates even before that: the concept started as a series of fake promos on The Daily Show, before they decided to make it into an actual show.
The 2006 White House Correspondent's Dinner - where he delivered scathing commentary feet away from his biggest targets.
Colbert: "Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32 percent approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in 'reality'. And reality has a well-known liberal bias. Sir, pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty, because 32% means it's two-thirds empty. There's still some liquid in that glass, is my point. But I wouldn't drink it. The last third is usually backwash."
Yes, because regardless of whether the person that invited him knew that Colbert plays a character or not, they got far more than they bargained for. The event was a roast, they got pure unadulterated arson. Note how Bush laughed at the guy before Colbert, but wasn't laughing once Stephen launched his act. In fact, you could tell the Bush supporters in the room from his dissidents by who was laughing and who wasn't- and given who the event was for, most of them were supporters, but Stephen stayed true to the end, and yet all he did was point out the truth in a humorous tone to the man in charge of the country. That takes gorram brass balls.
June 14, 2006: One of the show's early "Better Know a District" interviews, before anyone knew who he was, was with Republican Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, who had done virtually nothing during his time in office except try to get the Ten Commandments displayed in federal government buildings.
Colbert: Why was that important to you? Westmoreland: Well, the Ten Commandments is not a bad thing for people to understand and to respect. Colbert: I'm with you. Westmoreland: What better place is there to have something like that than in a judicial building, or a courthouse? Colbert: That is a good question. Can you think of any better building to put the Ten Commandments in than in a public building? Westmoreland: No. [shot of Colbert's face, which is like, "really?"] I think if we were totally without them we might lose a sense of our direction. Colbert: What are the Ten Commandments? Westmoreland: ...What are all of them? Colbert: Mm-hmm. Westmoreland:You want me to name them all? Colbert: Yes, please. [puts up his hands with his fists closed] Westmoreland: Um... don't murder. [Colbert puts up a finger] Don't lie. [second finger] Don't steal. [third finger] Um... I can't name them all. Colbert: Congressman, thank you for taking time away from keeping the Sabbath day holynote (the fourth Commandment) to talk to me. Westmoreland:[shaking his hand] Anytime, Stephen.
The December 20, 2006 episode. Chris Funk of The Decemberists has challenged Stephen to a guitar solo contest, which Stephen accepts (sort of). The contest is judged by critic Anthony DeCurtis, acoustic engineer Jim Ellison, and Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York; is presided over by Henry Kissinger; and ends with an all-star jam session of the Colbert Report theme.
Running for the United States Presidency in the 2008 election - with (visible) corporate sponsorship.
Colbert: "It's time for another installment of Hail To The Cheese: Stephen Colbert's Nacho Cheese Doritos 2008 Presidential Campaign...Coverage!"
Notably, he was not actually being sponsored by Frito-Lay.
There was his "feud" with the city of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, started when fans of the Oshawa Generals junior hockey team threw teddy bears (for charity) on the ice during a game against the Saginaw Spirit* Whose team mini-mascot, "Steagle Colbeagle The Eagle", was named after Colbert after fans stuffed the ballots. As a result, Colbert then started supporting the Spirit on the show, trashtalking rival teams during the Sport Report.. This culminated in Stephen Colbert Day in Oshawa after the Spirit defeated the Generals in a contest.
One key fact missing: Stephen Colbert day on the Mayor's birthday, who Colbert had defeated in the bet.
Having his portrait displayed in the Smithsonian - next to the hall of Presidents. And also the bathroom.
Colbert: "And if you wish to see my portrait, then go to the National Portrait Gallery, take the stairs to the second floor, then go to the bathroom!"
January 22, 2008: One segment of his show described his father's real-life Crowning Moment Of Awesome - working with Coretta Scott King and Andrew Young to resolve the 1969 Charleston Hospital Workers' Strike.
Colbert: "And that hospital administrator was James T. Colbert, who had recently sired an heir - who would later grow up to become the greatest American alive."
Having Al Gore to spontaneously dunk his head in a bucket of water just to show how hard it would be for people to adapt to a world covered in water (i.e. global warming).
November 18, 2009: Calling Sarah Palin's autobiography "a steaming pile of shit," then calling Quetzalcoatl a pussy & refusing to apologize:
November 30, 2009: Colbert's 6-minute interview with Joseph Cirincione, head of the Ploughshares Fund for nuclear disarmament, including a graphic pantomime of a nuclear blast, the reduction of current nuclear dilemma to a game of Marry/Boff/Kill(Marry, Sanction, Bomb), and actually getting his opponent to choose the "Bomb" option. The fact that Cirincione is such a good sport about it all adds to the fun. View the whole thing here.
As a token of gratitude, the Colbert "C" is now prominently displayed on the skaters' outfits
Some of Colbert's previous instances of calling on the fans-naming a bridge in Hungary, getting a treadmill named after him, HIS OWN GODDAMN ICE CREAM- could also qualifiy as a Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
When Stephen interviewed Andrew Schlafly, he got his revenge on Assfly taking his name out of his revision of the Bible by accusing him of inventing his own truth. We all knew it was true long before he said it, but the fact that Stephen said it to his face, while still pretending to support him, has to count for something.
As someone from Memphis, TN, his interview with Harold Ford Jr. was particularly satisfying.
May 4, 2010: Michael J. Fox trolls Stephen during The Word: Flight Risk, refusing to leave until Stephen agrees to promote his memoir.
Speaking of Canada, EVERYTHING involved with the 2010 '010 Vancouver Olympics, from crawling into NBC's fake fireplace to psychoanalyzing the US speed skating team to almost killing Lindsey Vonn with laughter on camera to getting Michael Bublé to sing the Canadian national anthem to the tune of the American national anthem (Bublé: I feel kind of dirty...).
June 7th, 2010: Colbert begins by chastising President Obama for not outwardly showing his anger and frustration at the BP Oil Spill disaster and demonstrates how rolling up his sleeves represent how angry he is. Colbert ends up ripping his sleeves off completely and demanding that the BP C.E.O. Tony Hayward come out onto the stage. A Tony Hayward look-alike appears and tries to explain things but Colbert kicks him in the nuts, drags him out of the studio, throws him down a flight of stairs, bangs his head in with a door, throws him off the roof of the studio, watches him be run over by his own SUV repeatedly by a sea turtle, then has a pair of seagulls eat him alive. There are not enough words for how utterly hilarious and awesome this is. Forget every gag and joke there has ever been about Tony Hayward's ineptitude regarding the BP spill because this is without a doubt the best revenge joke ever on the subject.
The July 5, 2010 episode where he does the show sick. He's in his Colbert Report robe, has a cup of Gatorade, his bunny slippers, and "Nana's Blanket." He's also in a leather chair next to the interviewing table the whole time, but most of the episode consists of pre taped segments.
July 7, 2010: Colbert's interview with Steve Carell turns into a segment of the Daily Show's beloved Even Stepvhen. Made even more awesome when Jon Stewart appears 'live' on the screen behind them.
July 27, 2010: Stephen Colbert...vs. Kevin freaking Kline on who can out-pronunciate each other. Followed by who can act out famous Shakespeare characters the best using only facial expressions and grunts.
August 3, 2010: His interview with Laura Ingraham, in which he managed to call her writing banal, cliched, and filled with "hideous, hackneyed racial stereotypes" to her face, while still pretending to support her.
Stephen: What are the odds that Barack Obama’s private musings would completely and perfectly match up with the narrative that the right is trying to push about him?
Saying that if Brett Favre unretires again, he'd kill him with his bare hands.
He said if Favre came out of retirement again, he'd "gouge his eyes out with a sharpened broom handle." Sure enough, two weeks later, Stephen plays a clip of the press conference where Brett Favre once again comes out of retirement. The next shot is of Stephen sharpening a broom handle. Made even more brilliant by his deadpan delivery of the line "It's eye-kebob time."
The entire Sept. 8, 2010 episode. To celebrate the official pulling of every combat troop from Iraq, his entire studio audience consisted of soldiers from every branch of the military who made it home in one piece (as well as two live feeds of soldiers still overseas). Not only were the veterans in attendance given a proper hero's welcome, each was supplied with a cold bottle of American beer and a hot dog. Serving the hot dogs? Vice President Joe Biden. And believe it or not, all that is just the tip of the awesome iceberg.
When one of his employees found a credit card belonging to someone connected to Goldman Sachs, Colbert offered to return the card if the man came on the show to defend Wall Street bonuses. He then threatened to reveal one number on the card until the card holder came on the show. Goldman Sachs then sent him a letter demanding he return the card, which he said he would do...after he copied it.
January 3rd, 2011: Colbert calls the Susan G. Komen for the cure out on spending over a million in donor funds annually on Frivolous Lawsuits against other cancer charities that use "for the cure" in their title, while acting like he was praising the decision.
January 18, 2011: Colbert calls out Mika Brzezinski for complaining about Sarah Palin getting too much attention in the media. The awesome part is not what he said against her, but the total criticism he gave about the relevance of Sarah Palin, without missing a single beat.
Stephen: I know you think this story has no purpose other than keeping Sarah Palin’s name in the headlines for another news cycle. I know you think she has nothing to offer the national dialogue and that her speeches are just coded talking points mixed in with words picked up at random from a thesaurus. I know you think Sarah Palin is at best a self-promoting ignoramus and at worst a shameless media troll who will abuse any platform to deliver dog-whistle encouragement to a far right base that may include possible insurrectionists. I know you think her reality show was pathetically unstatesmanlike, and at the same time, I know you believe it represents the pinnacle of her potential. And that her transparent desperation to be a celebrity so completely eclipsed her interest in public service so long ago that there would be more journalistic integrity on reporting on of the lesser Kardashians’ ass implants. I know, I know that when you arrive at the office each day you say a silent prayer that maybe—just maybe—Sarah Palin will at long last just shut up for just ten fucking minutes. I know because I can see it in your eyes. Well guess what, Mika? That’s the gig. And it’s only January of 2011, kiddo. And you have a minimum of two more years of this ahead of you. You want to stay in this game? You dig deep. You find another gear. You show up to work every day and get your hair and makeup done. You slap on a smile, get out there on TV and repeat what Sarah Palin said on Hannity last night right into the lens. You know...news.
And his response to Big Hollywood's blog posts about said rant is a slightly lesser Crowning Moment Of Awesome: "For the record, I believe Sarah Palin is a true statesman whose experience as a failed Vice Presidential candidate, half-term governor, and eight-episode reality show star has fully prepared her to take control of our nuclear arsenal.”
March 10, 2011: The epic ColbertPAC ad, in response to Governor Tim Palenty's epic totally-not-running-for-president-just-selling-a-book ad.
March 23, 2011: What's more awesome than selling a portrait of yourself to children's charities for 26,000 dollars? Getting Jimmy Fallon to match that money and getting the auctioneer to dance to Snoop Dogg.
December 15, 2011: Not only did Nat Geo Wild agree to host Stephen's Serious Classy Republican Debate, but they even created an amazing promo for it. And then Animal Planet ALSO agreed to host it! Let the battle begin!
January 11, 2012: How about this: a poll taken among South Carolina Republican voters placed Stephen at a whoping 5% of the vote. A full percentage point above Jon Huntsman. AND HE IS NOT EVEN RUNNING!!! Maybe.
And from that, the entire first act of his January 12, 2012 show the next day, where he transfers control of his Super Pac to Jon Stewart so he'll be free to run for president, and the two of them flaunting how closely they work together, what good friends they are and how they can communicate through their TV shows, and thus can slip through legal loopholes forbidding presidential candidates and super pacs from directly coordinating their plans. Also a Crowning Moment of Funny, awesome because, as Stephen demonstrated shortly before bringing out Stewart, this is pretty much how real life super pacs work.
He confirmed on CNN on Saturday morning that political ads would be run in SC.
January 19, 2012: In the Public Policy Poll, Colbert is at 13% (Obama had 41% and Romney 38%). After one week.
As a final act of defiance he gave Herman Cain the Colbert Bump. In their joint South Cain-olina Rally, Colbert made a serious speech on the point of his campaign.
Stephen: The pundits have asked, is this all some joke? And I say, if they are calling being allowed to form a super PAC and collecting unlimited, untraceable amounts of money from individuals, unions, and corporations, and spending that money on political ads and for personal enrichment, and then surrendering that super PAC to one of my closest friends while I explore a run for office — if that is a joke, then they are saying our entire campaign finance system is a joke!
February 23, 2012: Placido Domingo and Stephen Colbert singing opera.
Colbert on stage with Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, and Don Flemming singing "Goodnight Irene." Wow. This folk-singing Troper approves!
And, after pleading for the whole interview, sings a duet with Julie Andrews. (Who incidentally is a crowning moment all on her own.)
March 26, 2012: The Word: Dressed To Kill: Stephen deconstructs the arguments for Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law as well as how wearing a hoodie was what supposedly caused Trayvon Martin's death.
Stephen: I am an independent newsman. Not some smug, self-satisfied brown-noser toting to the Republican establishment...unlike some people.
After a pastor claims that Obama's support of same-sex marriage goes against "the Jesus that he says he follows."
Stephen: Yes. Obama's contradicting "The Jesus". (brings out a bible) And I, right now, would like to read to you what "The Jesus" said about homosexuality. ...I'd like to, but He never said anything about it.
Stephen: So congratulations North Carolina! You struck a decisive blow for loneliness. And tonight, as you sleep beside your heterosexual lifemate, you can rest assured that all across your great state, a gay man or a lesbian woman, is crying themselves to sleep in solitude, and making your relationship stronger with every tear.
In the October 24, 2012 episode, he eviscerates Todd Akin, Roger Rivard, and every other prominent person who'd recently said horrible things about rape victims. Using the exact same stock phrases they use.note Such as... "She was asking for it", "God intended it"
Specifically, giving these men the collective name "Team Rape" and admitting that while they may not appreciate the name, "c'mon, they're kinda asking for it."
"Fellas, you may not be aware of this, but in the 1920s, women got the right to vote." Topped by "If you're about to talk about rape, I want you to - and this is important, so go grab a pencil - if you're about to talk about rape, I want you to STAB YOURSELF IN THE EYE WITH YOUR PENCIL."
November 5, 2012: "Math has a liberal bias. After all, Math is why Romney's tax plan doesn't add up"
November 12, 2012: In the ongoing saga of his SuperPAC, he brings his lawyer on to the show and describes how he can legally steal all the money in the SuperPAC's accounts though a previously-unrecognized loophole in the laws and tax codes regarding set entities.
Stephen: So, what do I have to tell the IRS?
Trevor Potter: Nothing.
Stephen:(Smiling wickedly) Well Trevor....thanks for "nothing".
November 28, 2012: Fox columnist, Suzanne Venker, says that the problem with men being less interested in marriage is that "women aren't women anymore" and have progressed too far. Her solution was to surrender to their femininity and do what women are expected to do and what's in their nature. Colbert responded by saying he hopes she'll lead the charge by stepping down from writing because clearly "it's not in your nature."
December 10, 2012: Showing off his own personal sword, Sting. One of the actual prop swords from the movie The Hobbit. The look on the self-admitted Tolkien geek's face say it all. This is a man who has completed a childhood dream.
December 13, 2012: Stephen announces that the "Ham Rove Memorial Fund" will donate the remaining $773,704.83 from his Super PAC to Hurricane Sandy charities, the Yellow Ribbon foundation... and two pro-transparency organizations fighting against political corruption and superpacs. The Center for Responsive Politics has since renamed their meeting space the "Colbert Super Pac Memorial Conference Room" and the Campaign Legal Center now has "The Ham Rove Memorial Conference Room." Complete with plaques.◊
May 8, 2013: What does Stephen have to say after his sister Elizabeth Colbert-Busch lost to disgraced South Carolina governor Mark Sanford for a Congressional seat? "Fuck Mark Sanford." On helium, no less.
June 19, 2013: Stephen's heartwrenching tribute to his mother, who'd passed away the week before at age 92.
August 6, 2013: After the disappointment that Daft Punk wouldn't be on for Colbchella, he dances to Get Lucky in an elaborate montage featuring various celebrities and a bit of Jon Stewart. It must be seen to be believed.
September 22, 2013: The Colbert Report finally wins the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Series, becoming the first show to beat The Daily Show since 2002.
October 4, 2013: Colbert takes a couple whose wedding was ruined by the Government Shutdown shutting down national monuments, and marries them on TV. Even better are the celebrities involved: Smokey the Bear, Mandy Patinkin, and Broadway singer Audra McDonald singing a cover of White Wedding.
February 12th: When mocking Bill O'Reilly over auctioning his notes from his interview with President Obama, Stephen reveals that he stole O'Reilly's microwave a few years back and starts auctioning it off.
March 6th: Stephen tries to sing "Happy Birthday to You" in honor of its 90th anniversary, but when he can't because of copyrighting, Stephen sings a new song to the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner".