Stephen Colbert has made a career out of conducting uncomfortable interviews, but on Thursday he brought new meaning to the term "cringe-worthy" when he sat down with former intelligence official Philip Mudd.
Mudd, who has served as the deputy director of the CIA's counter-terrorist center and as a senior intelligence advisor at the FBI, stopped by the show to talk about his new book, "Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda." Let's just say he's no Saul Berenson.
The conversation began pleasantly enough, with Mudd discussing the changes to Al Qaeda over the past 12 years and emphasizing the importance of human informants in the fight against terrorism.
But then Colbert made a joke about "Homeland," and, well, things got awkward very quickly. "Did you ever meet that girl from 'Homeland'?" he asked, referring, of course, to Carrie Mathison, the bipolar CIA officer played by Claire Danes. "Stay away from her. She's crazy."
Mudd hasn't watched the show, he said, because he doesn't own a television set.
"Do you know our TVs are spying on us. Is that why?" Colbert asked.
It was not. "American culture has a lot to offer. We got great books, we got great people, we got great cafes, great food," Mudd explained. "About 18 down on that list for me is TV, which turns your brain into cotton candy. So I decided 20 years ago, dump it." (To which we say, maybe give the medium another try!)
Colbert was quick to point out the obvious. "We're not on Broadway right now. TV is selling your book right now. You want to amend that in any way?"
"No," he said, without a trace of humor. "Go read a book."
"I don't have to, because I have cable," Colbert fired back, but Mudd remained straight-faced. Not even a "Reading Rainbow" joke could prompt a giggle from him, because he'd never heard of the show. (His loss.)
Sensing that it was time to move on, the host switched to the apparently far less heated subjects of Syria, torture and extraordinary rendition.
Mudd could barely disguise his contempt for Colbert, who nevertheless pressed on mightily with his frequently very tough questions. Someone get this guy a job in the CIA.
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