My Comedy Hero: Alex Kealy on Stephen Colbert
- Brian Donaldson
- 21 June 2018
This article is from 2018
The rising star of the British stand-up scene limbers up for his August run by picking the constantly in-character talk-show host and satirist as his comic icon
I adore Stephen Colbert. Colbert is one of a clutch of greats including Steve Carell, Samantha Bee, Wyatt Cenac and John Oliver who have made their name as correspondents with Jon Stewart's [now Trevor Noah's] The Daily Show. But what Colbert did on his own spin-off show as a satirical project eclipsed all of these, and The Daily Show itself.
On The Colbert Report, he effectively remained in his character, a pastiche of blow-hard hyper-conservative Fox News presenters like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, for ten years. The writing and delivery involved in making liberal satirical points consistently delivered with the worldview and cadence of a right-wing pundit was incredible.
It also had the effect of turning the show's closing interview segment (often the banal / skippable portion of The Daily Show) into the programme's highlight, with Colbert undermining conservative guests by warmly agreeing with their points and then extending their worldview to its brutal conclusion in a satirical Jujutsu. To see those interviews where Colbert is improvising in character and often winning arguments by satirically agreeing with guests fully free to argue from their own point of view was honestly amazing.
Colbert also pushed his satire into the real world with issues such as campaign finance, where he set up his own real Super PAC (an unregulated political financing organisation that is bizarrely legal under US law) and testified in front of the Federal Election Commission, again, in character. It was an incredibly effective moment to show how problematic money in US elections had become (he argued that he, the character Stephen Colbert, was not coordinating campaign spending with the actor Stephen Colbert).
All of this had the potential to be a technical, not an emotional, exercise. Yet Colbert is a supremely gifted clown. A rubber face and dancing eyebrows, he has that blessed ability to connect with an audience, and even when discussing dark or intricate issues never loses his silliness. His late-night show, as heir to David Letterman, has found its feet and (cosmic justice!) has overtaken Trump-hair-fondler Jimmy Fallon in the ratings. But he should be most remembered for The Colbert Report.
Alex Kealy: A Kealy's Heel, Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire, 2–26 Aug, 5.15pm, free (donations).