On Thursday, December 18, Comedy Central aired the last-ever episode of The Colbert Report, a series that—after nearly a decade on the air—will go down as one of the finest examples of satire in the history of comedy. This is my eulogy.
My love for Stephen Colbert and The Report runs deep. I love first as a comedy fan, second as politics enthusiast and third (and perhaps most importantly) as someone whose life was profoundly changed by the show in a very real way. So forgive me—I'm about to do what comedy people do best and make this entirely about me.
I interned at The Colbert Report in the fall of 2009. Up until that point, I had spent my college years living off campus, eschewing typical university life in favor of working endless hours at a local restaurant and—because I went to school in my hometown—hanging out with my own parents. But then, one July morning, I got a call from a Colbert production assistant offering me an internship. It would be unpaid, I would be 1 of 20 interns and I would have to move to a city of 8 million people of which I knew absolutely no one. I left for New York one month later and began work at the Report on September 1st.
It was hard work, but it was also tremendously rewarding. The staff was appreciative of the long hours we put in. They treated us with respect and kindness. As broke and all-too-earnest interns, we bonded, and every day after work I would walk with my friend from the studio in Hell's Kitchen to her women's-only, dorm-style apartment building near Penn Station. She would buy a slice of pizza, which we'd end up sharing on her roof as we bitched about the tasks we had performed that day. "Can you believe what the props department had me do? I had to go all the way to a toy store in Queens to find an adult size scooter." "Audience wrangling is so annoying." "They made me wait outside for a half hour to greet Cory Booker."
We were complaining, but it was good-natured—the kind of satisfied whining of two people who were, in our bones, thrilled to be a part of something that we both thought was wonderful. We were two tiny, grateful cogs in the machine that made The Colbert Report run. (Looking back, it seems insane that they didn't pay us, but at the time—even as my hard-earned funds dwindled—it felt so entirely worth it.)
In the three months I spent there, I think I only ever exchanged words with Stephen about three times—once about the farmer's market in my hometown of Madison, WI, another time about a Flannery O'Connor biography that we both happened to be reading and, lastly, a brief exchange about Chicago vs. New York improv. But despite this, I felt the effect of his kindness on a daily basis. It was often said that the joy economy at Colbert was a trickle-down economy. Everyone was enthusiastic because the boss was enthusiastic. Everyone worked hard because the boss worked hard.
While Colbert himself was the driving force behind the show and the greatest comedic performer that I have ever seen in action, the team behind him was formidable. Every day, we'd watch the crew members perform the intricate dance of camera work, gaffer lighting and graphics, as producers assembled hours of insufferable footage from Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. We'd watch the writers hustle to write a brilliant script in the morning that would be dismantled in the afternoon, after which an even funnier script would emerge by showtime. We, the interns, would run around like chickens with our heads cut off—trying to find props, going through hours of Fox News to find clips, being sent on coffee runs. It sucked and it ruled.
Anytime we had a (rare) sliver of extra time, we'd go troll the writers' floor and hope for them to notice us. The nice thing is that they almost always did. Knowing that the vast majority of us interns wanted to be comedy writers, they'd graciously shoot the breeze, let us peer over their shoulders and, on the rarest of occasions, pitch jokes. It was a very male environment—of all the writers, only one (the ferociously funny Meredith Scardino) was female—which was disappointing, yes, but never discouraging. They—both the men and Meredith—gave me good advice, took me seriously (outwardly, at least) and occasionally read my work. With them it was clear that the only way I wouldn't be welcome in their writing room was if I wasn't being funny (and often I wasn't).
My time at Colbert was a true gift for which I am eternally grateful. It's thanks to the show that I've found brilliant (albeit reluctant) mentors. It's thanks to the show that I met some of my closest friends. It's thanks to the show that I understand how humor can make you smarter, kinder and more empathetic, even in the face of terrible and heartbreaking news. My favorite thing about The Colbert Report has always been how it forces its audience to think harder, to be better, but maybe that's just projection because that's what the Report did to and for me.
(Because, once again, I'm who this is all about.)