Stephen Colbert is a political commentary titan, hilarious comedian, and most recently a late night talk show host. It made sense for Vulture Festival to tap him to do a “State of the Union” over the weekend and the panel room was packed. Even though he was nursing what sounded like a head cold, Stephen brought the heat and the humor as he was quizzed by Frank Rich on Trump, late night, and how he is handling everything. 

One of the things I have always admired about Colbert is his willingness to be authentic. I’m a sucker for people who speak their mind while speaking from the heart. Standing in the panel room listening to him I felt like there was more to be heard than political jokes. There was wisdom in his words, especially when he spoke about the part comedy plays in politics today. 

After election night coverage which was somber, distressed, and “just a conversation” between Colbert and his audience, he had to address the sense of despair his staff felt. Instead of looking at the results in a wholly negative light he reminded everyone of a single truth: if they ever wondered if their job had meaning, it definitely did now.

Why? That night, whether it was warranted or not, people feared for the future. For Colbert, he borrowed a line from Dune when he said fear is the mind killer, then went on to remind everyone that you cannot have fear and laugh at the same time. 

It seemed right, then, that his solution to people’s fear was to try and make them laugh, which is something he is very good at. 

In order to make people laugh, Colbert shared about some of the changes he had to make after a year of heading The Late Show. At the time he took it over he was trying to be showrunner, host, and writer all at once and was driving himself toward burnout.

The solution was given to him by a trusted colleague who reintroduced him to the current show manager who was present in the audience helping Colbert tell his stories. It made all the difference. Instead of focusing on the day-to-day functioning of the show, Colbert could focus on the jokes and hitting his mark. 

Frank Rich, writer for the New York Times, was the moderator at this panel and asked Colbert questions about what it is like doing what he does in light of the Trump Administration. Of course neither of them (nor most of the people in the room) have a high opinion of the President. Colbert referred to the current atmosphere as a “dumpster fire” or, more aptly, “a Trumpster fire” and insisted that he is not a fireman. However, one of the greatest lines he has had to tread is the one between dancing close to the fire and actually getting into it. 

What does getting into it look like? Colbert admitted he stepped over that line during a recent monologue in which he used some choice words to describe President Trump. Regardless, he made it clear during the panel that he loves what he does and will continue to do it. Every night, even when it is hard, he enjoys getting up on the stage to share his thoughts with the audience through humor.

He told everyone at Vulture Festival that news breaks so quickly now that it is not out of the ordinary for them to add to the monologue while the monologue is being taped because they want to stay on top of what is happening throughout the day so that those watching in the evening can relate. 

Continuing to discuss his approach to mocking politics, he shared a story from the George W. Bush era of his comedy. At one point he was asked to do the White House Correspondents dinner as his character from the Colbert Report. While preparing to go up on stage he shared his jokes with a woman in which he held nothing back, she reacted accordingly. B

efore he went on, she shared a key piece of advice: “Take the compliments, dodge the bullets, and be glad they spelled your name right.” It was a solid piece of advice, but not one he has necessarily kept as the years have moved forward. 

Moving on from Donald Trump, Frank Rich asked Stephen who he would like to see on the show, from either the Democrat or Republican side of the aisle. He tossed out a few names, but said the key factor would be getting someone on who is a politician, but doesn’t talk like one.

He would not bother with Kellyanne Conway, for example, because she “answers without answering.” What he wants is someone who will cut loose and be authentic, and in that vein he admitted he would very much like to have Melania Trump on the show. Regarding her, he said she is probably the “most honest thing” about the current administration and shared that he admired her authentic commitment to her son. 

I have always admired those who speak their minds, and that is exactly what Stephen Colbert does every time he takes a stage. Underneath the sharp humor there is also a man who is gracious, compassionate, and does what he does because he cares about the world around him.

Regardless of political opinions, I think the world could use more people like Colbert in the limelight, speaking out and starting conversations that are meaningful and funny. His “State of the Union” at Vulture Festival was equal parts humorous and thought-provoking, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does from here.

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