Stephen Colbert’s ability to fully inhabit the identity of “Stephen Colbert,” the bloviating conservative pundit, is one of the more consistent pleasures of tuning in to “The Colbert Report.” As a result, catching a glimpse of Colbert without the quotation marks is a little like seeing KISS without the makeup – only less disappointing.
While the real Colbert tends to be a little press shy, he’s come out of hiding in recent weeks to promote “America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t,” the latest book by his onscreen counterpart. He made his latest appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The real Colbert took a few minutes to emerge. Host David Gregory began the sit-down with a warm welcome, to which Colbert replied, “I cannot wait to meet the press. Bring them in!”
From there, Colbert the character boasted that his preferred candidate, Mitt Romney, was on a “rocket ride to plausible” after his successful showing in the first presidential debate. The real Colbert expressed amazement at how Romney’s debate showing had completely transformed Republicans’ view of their nominee. “Now he’s got his long, luscious coattails, and everybody’s jumping on board,” he said.
Gregory also asked Colbert whether there was a point to his satire, which, for anyone who’s ever watched “The Colbert Report,” will seem like a redundant question. But Colbert dutifully explained that yes, he is trying to say something: “I am a satirist. Satire is parody with a point. If I was in satire and didn't have a point of view, that would be truly schizophrenic.”
Colbert also articulately contrasted his style of satire with that of Jon Stewart. He “does pure deconstruction” and picks apart the news “like a cadaver,” while Colbert explained that he prefers to embody the very thing he’s skewering.
He also likes to “play political games,” as he did by forming a "super PAC." What began as a joke inspired by an over-the-top Tim Pawlenty ad turned into a theatrical way of exposing the absurdities of our campaign finance system.
“There's an entire industry, there's a politico-industrial complex that is not only raising money but that is built around making money off the fact that there is so much money in politics and that there are almost no rules,” he said.
Easily the most genuine moment in the interview came when Gregory asked if Colbert believed the outcome of the election would change anything significantly. He expressed belief that there is a difference between the two candidates, although he’s not sure exactly what that difference might be.
Colbert expressed hope that if Obama is reelected, “he keeps some of the promises he didn't keep the first time.” He said Romney has “a good shot at winning” but expressed “honest confusion” over what his presidency might look like: “He seems absolutely sincere as a moderate, and he also seems pretty sincere as a severe conservative.”
“I know there's got to be a difference between these two men or we're all part of a huge, cruel joke,” Colbert concluded, sounding deadly serious.
And as for whether the real Colbert would ever run for office, the answer is a resounding no. "I have said terrible things with a straight face on camera," he said, as if that would make him a rarity in politics.