The Colbert Report – On Strike
Creator:Stephen Colbert, Ben Karlin, Jon Stewart
Starring:Stephen Colbert, with special guests, The Colbert Report writers
I kind of have an “in” at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, here in New York. I say “kind of,” because he wasn’t talented enough to help me get tickets to the live 30 Rock or SNL shows that they had a few weeks ago. He was, however, able to keep from crushing my dreams a third time by helping me score tickets to last night’s performance of The Colbert Report: On Strike.
For those of you who have never been there, the UCB theatre is not a fancy place. Several of the 150 seats are plain wooden or metal chairs and a few of the regular theater-style seats are broken. The stage was decorated with cardboard stars and red white and blue streamers. Colbert’s desk came straight from the UCB prop closet and was nothing more than a couple of 2x4’s nailed together, painted black and festooned with more red white and blue decorations. His chair was the same black metal one that several of his audience members were sitting on. There were no bookcases, fireplaces or grand oil paintings. If it weren’t for the audience full of hairy dudes drinking beer, I would have thought I was about to watch a fifth-grader’s report on George Washington. Stephen Colbert, the blustery pundit, would have been mortified. Stephen Colbert, the performer, was a trouper.
I arrived about an hour before the scheduled 6:30 start time and stood in line behind the seventy-five or so ticket holders who were already waiting in the freezing cold. I ended up with pretty decent seats right next to Nip/Tuck’s Joey Slotnick. Colbert came out right on time and did his signature run around the stage while high-fiving audience members. He started the show by thanking us for coming to see him, as he has spent the past month just shouting jokes in his shower stall. Most of the folks who work on the Report were in the theater and there were repeated shouts of “we miss you,” while Colbert thanked his staff and crew and reminded us that the proceeds of our $20 tickets were going to them.
The show itself was much like a regular episode of The Colbert Report, with some notable exceptions. Most of the script was made up of bits they were working on right before the strike, so the jokes weren’t exactly up-to-the-minute. Also gone was the slickness and polish that usually characterizes the Report. Many times during the show, Colbert would frantically scroll through his makeshift teleprompter (a PowerBook that had the script written in 40 pt. font in a Word document) and remark on how some jokes had a really long walk to the punch line. While he made a valiant attempt at staying in character, Colbert’s affable nature came through much more than it usually does on screen.
Colbert’s asides were only some of the ways in which the audience was treated to a peek of how an episode comes together. During his introduction, Colbert revealed that “The Word” is the most difficult segment of the show and that writing the point/counterpoint jokes can “take the f---ing calcium out of your bones,” which made the fact that they did two “The Word” segments that much funnier. In addition to “The Word,” the audience was treated to a “Threat Down,” complete with Colbert making his own siren noises. The number one threat? Bears.
The special guest was the author of Colbert’s book, I Am America and So Can You. Instead of spending five minutes interviewing himself, several of the show’s writers came out and read excerpts from chapters they had written. Even Bobby, Colbert’s beleaguered production assistant, who is actually writer Eric Drysdale, had his moment on stage. After the reading, Colbert ended the show with a song dedicated to his pal, Karl Rove.
Twenty dollars may seem like a lot to pay to see a show that is usually free, but getting to see The Colbert Report in this format was more than worth it. The atmosphere was fun and collaborative and it was quite obvious that everybody wanted the strike to end so they could get back to work. Last night’s performance benefited the staff financially, but everybody who works on The Colbert Report seemed relieved to be able to be together again, if only for a night. Some variation of “let’s end this strike so we can get back to work” was repeated throughout the evening, and with talks between the WGA and the AMPTP scheduled to resume today, there is some hope that the writers can get what they’re asking for and start making television again. Although, as Stephen Colbert, the pundit, said at the beginning of his show, “if writers want to make money on the internet, they should just go into porn like everyone else.” Out of the two options, let’s hope the former is the one that happens.