Sometime next year, Stephen Colbert will ascend from the world of basic cable into the vaunted heavens of network broadcast when he takes over the CBS late night spot from David Letterman. While he surely has years and years of great TV moments ahead of him, this period of transition is as good a time as any to look back on Colbert’s best moments as a parody conservative host in the half-hour following Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show.”
The best place to begin is Colbert’s first and perhaps one of his longest-lasting media contributions: the word “truthiness.”
Truthiness is using your feelings and heart to define the truth, as opposed to facts, which can be “elitist.”
Colbert dropped this word on the audience in his very first show in 2005, and it was quickly picked up by the mainstream media. Merriam-Webster Dictionary made it Word of the Year in 2006.
For a 2010 segment, Colbert worked the fields with the United Farm Workers, simultaneously educating and creating comedy, not an easy line to walk when dealing with a segment of society that’s far from entitled.
This segment led to Colbert testifying before Congress, which he did as his conservative character, something to which members of Congress did not take kindly.
One of the great joys of Colbert’s conservative persona is his ability to somehow reverse eviscerate someone by taking their side. Only through Colbert’s over-the-top defense can one truly appreciate the absurdity of the original remarks. Case in point: Sarah Palin’s 2011 mangling of the story of Paul Revere during her bus tour of America. Colbert’s ability to run with her faux pas and turn it into a full-scale re-enactment of American history is nothing short of breathtaking.
“For those who say it’s implausible for Paul Revere to have ridden a horse while ringing a bell and firing multiple warning shots from a front-loading musket, all I have to say is: Prepare to eat historical re-enactment,” he said to her critics.
Another 2011 highlight was Colbert’s attempt to learn British tea etiquette from royal biographer Hugo Vickers. The segment was inspired by cable news’ “royal wedding fever” and was designed to prepare Colbert for the moment he’d eventually meet a royal (a prospect greatly improved by his new gig). The conversation involved “stiffies” and the proper way to object at a wedding and provided Colbert one of his best interviews ever.
Many have praised Colbert for his improv skills, but while he’s always quick in interviews, it was the last-minute cancellation by guests Daft Punk that allowed him (and his writing staff) to shine with this 2013 hurriedly put together music video featuring Colbert and a long roster of celebrities dancing to “Get Lucky.”
He also got some choice words in at MTV, owned by Viacom, which also owns Comedy Central. Which means he’s not afraid to go after the suits, just like Letterman back in the old days.
But perhaps no comedy clip can completely capture the pure humanity Colbert embodies, which is why we’re also including this tribute to his mother, who had recently died.
Colbert’s voice breaking with emotion, he delivered a beautiful and stirring eulogy as the opening to his show and then segued seamlessly into the comedy at hand. That’s not something to be approached lightly.