Colbert, Stephen


Colbert, Stephen
▪ 2007
 In 2006 comedian Stephen Colbert demonstrated that the old adage that “newsmen are supposed to report the news, not be the news” did not apply to fake newsmen. From the time his show, The Colbert Report, debuted on the cable television network Comedy Central in 2005, the bespectacled host garnered headlines for coining words, sparking Internet barrages, cornering congressmen, and even skewering the U.S. president face to face.

      On The Colbert Report, he took on the guise of a self-important conservative commentator, a persona meant to lampoon certain cable-news personalities. It was during a nightly editorial segment called “The Wørd” that Colbert coined the word truthiness to express a kind of “truth” derived from a gut feeling rather than from any known facts. (Truthiness was named the Word of the Year in 2005 by the American Dialect Society.) He also coined wikiality to describe a “factoid” determined to be true by majority opinion rather than through any supporting evidence. (Wikiality reflected a practice used by the online open-source encyclopaedia Wikipedia to settle disputes between contributors.) In a demonstration of wikiality, he urged viewers to edit Wikipedia's article on elephants and introduce the erroneous statement that the African elephant population had tripled in the past six months. The Web site was flooded with activity, and the article had to be locked to prevent additional changes.

      Perhaps the biggest headlines that Colbert generated came from his encounters with politicians. For example, on “Better Know a District,” a regular Colbert Report segment that featured interviews with members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Colbert once cornered a conservative Christian representative into reciting the Ten Commandments, a task the congressman was unable to accomplish. In April 2006 Colbert was the featured speaker at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner—an annual event traditionally attended by the president and known for its good-natured ribbing between the president and the press. Colbert performed in character, using his blustery conservative persona to satirize the current political climate, but many people thought that his jokes were too sharp or mean.

      Colbert was born on May 13, 1964, in Charleston, S.C. After studying acting at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., he joined the Second City comedy improv troupe in Chicago. There he met Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, with whom he created the award-winning sketch show Exit 57 (1995–96) and the bizarre sitcom Strangers with Candy (1999–2000), both on Comedy Central. Colbert worked on several other television projects before joining Comedy Central's The Daily Show in 1997. For eight years he was a correspondent and writer on the satiric news program, and he gained renown for such regular bits as “Even Stephven,” a mock debate with comedian Steve Carell, and “This Week in God,” a review of religious news. Colbert also appeared in films, including the big-screen version of Strangers with Candy (2006).

James Hennelly

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▪ American comedian
in full  Stephen Tyrone Colbert 
born May 13, 1964, Washington, D.C., U.S.
 
 American actor and comedian, who was perhaps best known as the host of The Colbert Report, an ironic send-up of television news programs.

      After graduating with a theatre degree (1986) from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Colbert joined the Second City comedy improv troupe in Chicago. There he met Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, with whom he created the award-winning sketch show Exit 57 (1995–96) and the bizarre sitcom Strangers with Candy (1999–2000), both on the Comedy Central cable network. Colbert worked on several other television projects before joining Comedy Central's The Daily Show in 1997. For eight years he was a correspondent and writer on the news parody, where he became a fan favourite for such segments as “This Week in God,” a look at religious issues in the news, and “Even Stephven,” a mock debate between Colbert and fellow correspondent Steve Carell.

      In 2005 Colbert became the host of his own spin-off show, The Colbert Report, and took on the guise of a self-important conservative commentator, a persona meant to parody certain cable-news personalities, most notably Bill O'Reilly. During his first show Colbert coined the word truthiness to express a kind of unchanging “truth” derived from a gut feeling rather than from any known facts. (Truthiness was named the Word of the Year in 2005 by the American Dialect Society.) The neologism became the organizing principle for the show, where Colbert's rants about political and cultural issues and his expressions of personal idiosyncrasies (such as an unyielding hatred of bears) were treated with the same amount of seriousness. In 2008 The Colbert Report earned both a Peabody Award and an Emmy Award for outstanding writing.

      In April 2006 Colbert blurred the line between entertainment and political critique in a very public forum when he was the featured speaker at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner—an annual event that traditionally featured good-natured ribbing between the president and the press. He performed in character, lampooning George W. Bush (Bush, George W.)'s administration and the mainstream media with a degree of harshness (or candor, depending on one's political leanings) not common to the event. The resulting publicity raised Colbert's national profile and helped turn him into something of a political tastemaker for many young liberals.

      In addition to his acting credits, Colbert provided vocal talent for many cartoons, including “TV Funhouse” on Saturday Night Live. He coauthored Wigfield (2003) with Sedaris and Dinello and starred with them in a feature film adaptation of Strangers with Candy (2005). In 2007 Colbert published I Am America (And So Can You!), in which he used his television-pundit persona to comment on—and frequently deride—various aspects of American society, including religion, the media, higher education, and dating.

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Universalium. 2010.

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