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Stephen Colbert is mostly known for his politically infused comedy seen on The Late Show and The Colbert Report, with many fans also celebrating his oddball scripted runs on shows like Strangers with Candy and Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. But did you know there's an alternate universe where Colbert could have been one of the six stars of Saved by the Bell? Ryan Reynolds was certainly unaware, and his reaction to Colbert's admission displayed everything that I was also feeling about that ridiculous story.
While joking about having worn a necktie decorated with piano keys to his first audition (for a garbage bag commercial), Ryan Reynolds joked that it was the kind of thing that would be worn by anyone in the crew of Saved by the Bell. That sparked Stephen Colbert's memory banks, where he mentioned that he'd auditioned for it, which prompted this reaction from Reynolds.
It's almost antithetical to think about Stephen Colbert roaming the halls of Bayside, as Ryan Reynolds' face conveys above. And it's when he reveals the character he auditioned for that things got even sillier. Here's the first part of Colbert's story.
That was my first professional audition. 1986. They came to Chicago. I was a student at Northwestern University, and I don’t know, somebody had seen me do something. Somebody had scouted me at school. I got called down to a casting agent on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and they handed me the [script], and I was auditioning for the part of…was the character’s name Screech? Was it Screech? I auditioned for Screech. I’m not joking.
Which, obviously, prompted Ryan Reynolds to ask if the Late Show host was joking, because what the hell kind of universe would this be if Zack Morris' best friend was played by Stephen freakin' Colbert? One that makes Reynolds die laughing, obviously.
I dare say Stephen Colbert's Screech might have gotten more monologue asides than Zack as the show went on, had the actor-turned-host nailed the role. And all those musical moments would have been that much more believable, theoretically. However, it turns out Colbert was woefully at a performance-based disadvantage when compared to Dustin Diamond when it came to actually landing the role of Samuel "Screech" Powers. Here's how his actual audition went.
And let me tell you how big I was. Imagine how that character ended up in broadcast. I did my audition, and they said to me – [takes glasses off] – ‘There’s a terms you’re gonna want to need to know about as a professional. It’s called over-the-top. You just went over the top. Don’t do that anymore.’ And then I saw the subtle interplay of status and dynamics that Dustin Diamond brought to that part.
It can be assumed that Stephen Colbert was initially auditioning for the pre-Saved by the Bell youth-skewing sitcom that went under the name Good Morning, Miss Bliss, which starred Freaky Friday's Hayley Mills in the titular role. That might have been a good enough reason as any for him to want to audition.
Perhaps the weirdest part of that story, if there can be just one, is that Stephen Colbert is a full 13 years older than Dustin Diamond, so Colbert's version of Screech would have been vastly older, if not any more mature. It's well-known that Diamond was younger than the rest of his co-stars, which played into why he alleged he didn't fit in as much with the others. (Among other claims he made.)
Real talk, though. We can all agree that Ryan Reynolds would have made a fantastic Zack Morris, right? Not that anyone should ever replace Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Zack, especially since we're about to see him once more in the role for Peacock's upcoming Saved by the Bell revival. But in a different world, at a different time (out), Reynolds could have excelled.