Now that Stephen Colbert has been officially tapped to replace David Letterman, one question has been raised more than any other: What will a Colbert-hosted show look like when he isn’t doing a masterful send-up of conservative pundits like Bill O’Reilly?
As expected, Colbert’s character will be ditched. A late night network talk show hosted by a faux right-wing commentator probably wouldn’t have worked. But Colbert has dropped the character before.
In fact, he’s occasionally stepped out of character while appearing as a guest of Letterman’s on “The Late Show.”
He appeared as himself during a 2012 appearance, yukking it up with Letterman about his participation in a sailing race. Even when Letterman brought up Colbert’s super PAC — which had been promoted incessantly on the “Colbert Report” — the character never surfaced. When the audience applauded the amount of money the PAC had raised, Colbert didn’t bask in the adoration as his character might have done.
“I don’t really understand why you’re applauding,” he said.
Last year, when his sister, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, was running in a special congressional election in South Carolina, Colbert dropped the character at a campaign event.
TPM’s own Josh Marshall received first-hand exposure to Colbert out of character back in 2007. In the behind-the-scenes footage, Colbert talked to John Kerry about the character he plays on the “Colbert Report.”
“You know that I’m in character,” Colbert explained to Kerry, who confirmed that he knew the drill.
“It’s wonderful to see you out of character,” Kerry said.
He talked to NPR about the character in 2012 when he was promoting his ridiculously titled book, “America Again: Re-Becoming The Greatness We Never Weren’t.”
“My character is based on news punditry, the masters of opinion in cable news, and they all have books,” Colbert said. “We don’t have time to write a book and feed and wash ourselves, so something has to go out the window. And [for me] it was family, friends and hygiene for the past year.”
Back in 2006, with the “Colbert Report” still in its infancy, Colbert described his farcical character during an interview with “60 Minutes.”
“I think that’s the only hope that I’ll actually do this job right if I begin to believe my own line of crap. And so far, I still know I’m an idiot,” he told Morley Safer.
Before he became “Stephen Colbert,” the real Stephen Colbert had plenty of work.
As a real newsman for “Good Morning America,” Colbert reported from the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University in 1997. Lizz Winstead, co-creator of “The Daily Show,” said Thursday on MSNBC that the Comedy Central program was inspired to offer him a job after seeing him on “GMA.”
His foray into comedy came with Chicago’s famed improv troupe “Second City.” Here’s a clip of a young Colbert performing in a sketch for the improv group in 1990.
He joined “The Daily Show” in the late 1990s, but his celebrity really took off during the early part of the aughts, when the program had a field day with the Bush administration and cemented itself as a pop cultural juggernaut.
Here’s a segment from 2003, when Colbert “covered” gay sex allegations surrounding Prince Charles. Around the 2:30 mark, with host Jon Stewart cracking up, Colbert couldn’t keep a straight face either.
During his time at the “Daily Show,” Colbert hosted a recurring segment called “This Week in God,” in which he satirized the world’s manifold religions.
Colbert sometimes guest-hosted the “Daily Show.” Here he is opening the show while filling in for Stewart in 2004:
And here he is interviewing Ralph Nader in the same episode: