Longer listens: The genuine Stephen Colbert

Published February 13, 2006 8:30PM (EST)

Stephen Colbert, as most people know him, is the host of "The Colbert Report," the hilariously deadly satire of cable news talk shows. He is also, less famously, the youngest of 11 children from a dirt road in James Island, S.C., a former philosophy student at the ultraconservative, men-only Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and a practicing Roman Catholic. Between his deadpan comic persona and unusual life story, Colbert makes for a great interview.

On Jan. 16, Colbert spoke with Tim Goodman, TV critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, in front of a packed house at San Francisco's Herbst Theatre. The amusing and informative interview is available as a four-part podcast at SFGate.com. In Part 1 (17:08, MP3), Colbert talks about the "humorocracy" that was his childhood home, the airplane accident that killed his father and two of his brothers when he was 10, his consequent retreat into the world of fantasy fiction and his days as a pot-smoking high school outcast.

In Part 2 (19:56, MP3), Colbert describes his two years at Hampden-Sydney, which left him depressed and underweight, and his transfer to theater school at Northwestern, where, after he tried to break a man's hand on stage, his advisor insisted that he go into therapy. After college Colbert traveled in Europe until he ran out of money and then took a job answering phones for the Second City improv theater in Chicago, where he eventually began performing.

In Part 3 (21:31, MP3), we learn that Colbert was briefly a "real" news correspondent before he became a "fake" one. "Good Morning America" hired him to be a correspondent because he was a comedian but could look normal in a Brooks Brothers suit and because they were looking for lighthearted material to compete with the "Today" show's visits to the crowd in Rockefeller Plaza. He lasted two months before returning to "The Daily Show" (where he had worked briefly under its former host, Craig Kilborn) just in time to cover the 2000 presidential campaign with Jon Stewart. "That campaign was great for us," says Colbert. "I mean, there was no better story anyone could ever write about, I think, because it concerned everyone, it was unprecedented, and no one died."

In Part 4 (20:11, MP3), Colbert wonders that anyone ever agrees to be a guest on his show, reveals the trick he uses to get over the humiliation of being a fool in front of an audience, and says he was pleased to discover that his "most conservative friends back home in South Carolina are thrilled by the conservative things that he says" on his show.

And in case you just can't get enough Colbert, there is this interview (39:26, Real Audio) with Terri Gross on "Fresh Air," in which Colbert has this to say about his Catholic faith: "I still go to church and my children are being raised in the Catholic Church. I was actually my daughter's catechist last year for First Communion, which was a great opportunity to speak very simply and plainly about your faith without anybody saying, 'Yeah, but do you believe that stuff?' which happens a lot in what I do."

-- Ira Boudway

By Salon Staff

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