All-spin zone

Stephen Colbert celebrates the era of ignorance, taking his bloviating journalist to a glorious new high with his "Daily Show" spinoff.

By Heather Havrilesky

Published October 18, 2005 4:10PM (EDT)

Many have wondered how "Daily Show" regular Stephen Colbert would stretch his self-important journalist character to fill up another half-hour of television every night. The answer? Do it the way real-life self-important journalists with their very own interminable news shows do it: with lots of pointless pontificating, rambling asides and egocentric blathering. Just make sure there are plenty of flashing headlines next to your head, and people won't know the difference.

"The Colbert Report" (pretentiously pronounced "The Col-bear Ra-poor") is an extended play on the fact that, in the age of "The Daily Show" or "Hardball" or nutty Nancy Grace of Court TV, not only can't people differentiate between real news and slanted, self-serving blather, they can't distinguish between real journalists and those who play journalists on TV. If the guy's name is flashing all over the place, he must be important.

In keeping with this trend, Colbert's name is scattered all over the set -- in the background in two places, on a plasma screen in front of him, twice on his desk and moving in a red ticker across the ground, plus his desk is in the shape of a giant "C." During the opening credits, an eagle flies around his head, and words flash across the screen: "POWERFUL," "COURAGEOUS," "EXCEPTIONAL," and also "DOMINEERING," "RELENTLESS," "GRIPPY." Yes, you read that right: Grippy. Soon, Colbert tells us about his own personal brand of no-nonsense, hard-hitting ... well, nonsense. Somewhere out there, Bill O'Reilly is fidgeting and twitching like the villain whose voodoo doll just took a thumb tack to the forehead.

In a nice play on O'Reilly's "No-Spin Zone" foolishness, Colbert wants us to know that even though his name is all over the place, the show isn't all about him. "No, this program is dedicated to you, the heroes!" he bellows. "And who are the heroes? The people who watch this show -- average, hardworking Americans. You're not the elites, you're not the country club crowd. I know for a fact that my country club would never let you in. But you get it! And you come from a long line of it-getters!"

Immediately, Colbert has his finger on the throbbing pulse of right-wing punditry, the dexterity with which they pander to the working class without getting any mud on their Italian wing-tip loafers. "On this show, your voice will be heard," Colbert reassures us, "in the form of my voice."

Which brings us to "tonight's word": truthiness. "Now I'm sure some of the word police, the 'Wordinistas' over at Webster's, are gonna say, 'Hey, that's not a word.'" But Colbert goes on to explain, "I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart. And that's exactly what's pulling our country apart today. We are divided between those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart." Next to Colbert, a bullet point flashes "No Thinking." With the glorification of ignorance at its peak, this little rant couldn't feel any more timely. It's soothing, somehow, to witness Colbert tackling the profound absurdity of the times with such unbridled glee.

Next, NBC anchor Stone Phillips appears and Colbert quickly points out an Emmy award on the mantel next to a Peabody award, then asks Phillips, who also won an Emmy, "Do you keep yours next to your Peabody?" After a hilariously nonsensical interview, the two have a "gravitas" contest, to see who can deliver the most idiotic news headlines with the most convincingly weighty intonation. Naturally, Phillips is the master of this domain, but after the applause for him fades, Colbert mutters sympathetically, "Nice try."

Basically, those who doubted Colbert could support a full half-hour with his gravitas have been silenced -- at least until the second episode, anyway. Not only does Colbert maintain his persona without skipping a beat throughout the entire show, but he's got great comic timing, the show's writers are brilliant, and the whole thing is pure foolish, bizarre, idiotic fun at Bill O'Reilly's expense. And is there any better kind of fun than that? Grippy, indeed.

Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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Bill O'reilly Television The Colbert Report The Daily Show