ETP Exclusive!* New York magazine has an automatic winner in putting this Stephen Colbert article — or really any Stephen Colbert article — on the cover (if you don't believe me, I have a bridge in Hungary you might be interested in). This particular Colbert article looks to be extra-good, authored as it is by the perspicacious and very funny in his own right Adam Sternbergh. No doubt there will be some interesting ad thoughtful nuggets in there; indeed, we've got some below as Sternbergh deconstructs Colbert's swaggering, outrageous blowhard demeanor and commentary and finds it surprisingly similar to that of...Ann Coulter. In fact, he offers The Stephen Colbert-Ann Coulter Challenge: See if you can tell the difference between comments made by Colbert and Coulter. (NB: Not to be confused with the Stephen Colbert Greenscreen Challenge, or the Stephen Colbert Vulcan Ears Challenge**). Here are a few:
Answers, and awesome juicy excerpt, after the jump.
*It's fun saying that, right Meet The Press?
**Send your doctored pics in today!
(Answers: Coulter 1, 4,6; Colbert 2, 3, 5, 7)
Excerpt: "Stephen Colbert Reports from Inside the Republican Brain" by Adam Sternbergh
Here's something Colbertophiles might not know or might not want to know: He loves Richard Nixon. He has a 1972 Nixon campaign poster on the wall of his office. He points at it and says, "He was so liberal! Look at what he was running on. He started the EPA. He opened China. He gave 18-year-olds the vote. His issues were education, drugs, women, minorities, youth involvement, ending the draft, and improving the environment. John Kerry couldn't have run on this! What would I give for a Nixon?"
Colbert in person is one of those rare comedians who likes to dissect comedy, especially his own comedy, and especially what makes his own comedy funny. This is owed in part to the nature of his show--he plays an abrasive character who is, on the surface, designed to be repellent but is actually meant to entertain--which means he's spent a lot of time thinking about how exactly to pull off this trick. When he was developing the idea with Karlin and Stewart, he said to them, "I can't be an asshole." And Stewart said, "You're not an asshole. You're an idiot. There's a difference." For starters, being an idiot gives him a certain license. "The audience wouldn't forgive Jon for saying things most comedians would want to say. But we can say almost anything, because it's coming out of the mouth of this character."
Still, there's obvious room for overlap and conflict between the two shows; for example, a "War on Valentine's Day" story that Colbert's writers had prepared a long segment about, only to learn The Daily Show had already done a field piece on the topic. Both shows maintain independent writing staffs, so Ben Karlin zips back and forth between the studios, overseeing the tapings and making the final call if there's a tug-of-war. "The game they're playing is a slightly different one from us," says Stewart, "so we don't trip on each other that much. And let's put it this way: This ain't the Serengeti. There's plenty of food to go around." If a story's big enough, like the Mark Foley sex scandal, both shows will take a bite--Stewart with his What is this world coming to? lament and Colbert with his contrarian-at-all-costs irony. "It's the Jewish Day of Atonement," said Stewart on-air, about Foley. "I don't know how many days of fasting can get you out of trying to bang 16-year-olds. My guess is at least three days. Even after that, probably a month of salads." On his show, Colbert defended Foley as misunderstood, claiming "stud" is a text-message acronym for "Strong Teenager Using Democracy," and "horny" stands for "Happy On Reaching New Year's." "Every January 1," announced Colbert in that unwavering pundit's tone, "that is the message I send to my buddies at Stephen Colbert's Youth Camp for Young Studs: 'I am incredibly horny.' "
Colbert's on-air personality, so distinct from Stewart's, leads to a peculiar comedic alchemy on the show. During one taping I attended, Colbert did a bit about eating disorders that ended with his addressing the camera and saying flatly, "Girls, if we can't see your ribs, you're ugly." The audience laughed. I laughed. The line was obviously, purposefully outrageous. But it was weird to think that this no-doubt self-identified progressive-liberal crowd was howling at a line that, if it had been delivered verbatim by Ann Coulter on Today, would have them sputtering with rage.
In fact, here's a list of statements by either Stephen Colbert or Ann Coulter. See if you can tell who said what:
"Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do. They don't have the energy. If they had that much energy, they'd have indoor plumbing by now."
- "There's nothing wrong with being gay. I have plenty of friends who are going to hell."
- "I just think Rosa Parks was overrated. Last time I checked, she got famous for breaking the law."
- "Being nice to people is, in fact, one of the incidental tenets of Christianity, as opposed to other religions whose tenets are more along the lines of 'Kill everyone who doesn't smell bad and answer to the name Muhammad.'"
- "I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be you Hindu, Muslim, or Jewish. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior."
- "[North Korea] is a major threat. I just think it would be fun to nuke them and have it be a warning to the rest of the world."
- "Isn't an agnostic just an atheist without balls?"
(Answers: Coulter 1, 4,6 Colbert 2, 3, 5, 7)
Of course, I'm not trying to equate Coulter with Colbert. For starters, Coulter is a shrill, abusive demagogue and Colbert just plays one on TV. But with Coulter, there's always been a sturdy suspicion that she is playing a character (like Colbert) and amping up the obnoxious rhetoric for maximum effect (like Colbert). When I mention the comparison to Colbert, though, he seems surprised, even unnerved. "I don't really think about her much," he says. "She's a self-generating bogeyman. She's like someone who wants attention for having been bad." Given that he's hosted right-wing true believers like Joe Scarborough before, and has often said he'd love to have Bill O'Reilly on the show, would he ever invite Coulter as a guest? "My sense is that she's playing a character," he says. "I don't need another character. There's one character on my show, and that's me."