Monday, January 09, 2012

The Delicious Multidimensionality of Stephen Colbert

I was particularly struck by the New York Times magazine profile of Stephen Colbert and, in particular, the multidimensionality of his satire. As someone who has more than a passing interest in the idea of multiple dimensions, multidimensionality and irony is a subject that deeply piques this blogger's curiosity.

Eric Drysdale, who wrote for the show for 6 years (and a founding member of the New York Stereoscopic Society), is about as enthusiastic a 3D geek as you will ever meet. I asked him years ago on the old Jake and Jackie Radio Show about the links between 3D and Colbert's irony -- he kind of begged me off by changing the subject. It was at like 1 am -- Okay, The Corsair is a media geek -- so it was understandable. But it is always something that lingered at the outer edges of my consciousness watching Colbert report: his ironic distance from the audience, the faux-but-kind-of-real Doritos commercials, his asymmetrical campaign for President, etc.

In this weekend's profile of Colbert, the subject came up again, with more than a little bit of deliciousness, vis-a-vis his growing role at the periphery of the 2012 presidential campaign:

"'It’s bizarre,' remarked an admiring Jon Stewart, whose own program, 'The Daily Show,' immediately precedes 'The Colbert Report' on Comedy Central and is where the Colbert character got his start. 'Here is this fictional character who is now suddenly interacting in the real world. It’s so far up its own rear end,' he said, or words to that effect, 'that you don’t know what to do except get high and sit in a room with a black light and a poster.'

"... After Jon Stewart took over from Craig Kilborn as host of 'The Daily Show' in 1999, he encouraged Colbert to make the character more political, perhaps by incorporating some of the opinionated know-nothingism he routinely displayed in a point-counterpoint segment called 'Even Stevphen,' in which he and Steve Carell (also a regular, before he moved on to 'The Office') used to debate things like Islam vs. Christianity and the goodness or badness of the weather, shouting things like 'Yes!' 'No!' and 'Shut up!' at each other."

Then came The Colbert Report, his own spin off:

"... Stewart also recalled that Colbert worried at first that the 'Report' might not be sustainable, and says he kept pointing out, “ ‘I don’t know anyone more interesting than you. You know so much about so many different areas.’' Stewart went on: 'I’m not at all surprised that the show is good — he’s amazing at it. He’s able to weave a character in a way that’s never been done on television before — rendering this fictional character in 3-D, live, in such a way that he’s still able to retain his humanity.' The extra dimension, he explained, is the other Colbert, the real one. 'The third dimension is him. That’s the thing we started to see here. He is so interesting, smart and decent. He’s a good person, and that allows his character to be criminally, negligently ignorant.'

"The Colbert on-screen persona is actually less rigid than it used to be, and Colbert can dial it up or down as he chooses. There is now more of a winking quality to the act, a sense that we’re all in on the joke. And in the last part of the show, when Colbert typically leaps up from his desk and bounds across the set to a table in front of a fireplace with the Latin motto 'Videri quam esse' ('To seem to be, rather than to be') .."

We also learn in this fabulous profile that Colbert, before he went off to improv theater in Chicago, studied Philosophy at Hampden-Sydney. As someone who also studied Philosophy it would be interesting to know whether or not his studies in Virginia included Socratic/Kierkegaardian irony or even ironic dialectic in general.

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