Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee on buns in your face, taking fakery seriously, and why Jon Stewart poops in a bag
Daily Show writer and correspondent Stephen Colbert recently found himself seated in front of porn star Mary Carey and her producer. It was for a segment about how the two had officially become Republicans, even attending the President’s Dinner, a fundraiser hosted by George W. Bush. During the interview, Carey, who earlier admitted to having "a lot of gas problems," said she joined the party because Republicans are "very, very wealthy people." Soon after, she rips a huge fart.
"What was that?" asks Colbert, straight-faced as always.
"I had a little gas," says Carey. "I’ve never farted for any other interview before – you’re my first fart."
"Well," replies Colbert, "that’s what we in the news biz call an exclusive."
It’s also what those in the fake news business call "getting the funny."
Knight of the card table
Four nights a week, The Daily Show takes real news and people and manages to wring some seriously hilarious shit out of them. Off the air, however, the show’s team does its best to play down the growing view that the half-hour slot is a bona fide source of information for a younger audience that has largely abandoned traditional news media. Host Jon Stewart has referred to himself as "a serious fake newsman" and makes a point of mentioning that anyone who believes the show has a serious bent should remember that it follows a program where puppets make crank phone calls (Crank Yankers).
Colbert, speaking over the phone from New York, stays on message: We’re a fake news show – any impact we have other than generating laughs is purely coincidental. When I ask him about ethics, he says: "I have to adhere to nothing. That’s the glory of the fake part. No one is going to toast the end of my career at the Waldorf, but I don’t have to have standards, which I find exhausting."
Ever since its hilarious coverage of the 2000 presidential campaign, The Daily Show has seen its audience and influence grow. The guests have gotten better, a mock history textbook written by Stewart and the writing staff was a runaway bestseller, and those in power are starting to pay attention. All of this is good for the crew that puts the show together, and Colbert’s stellar work has earned him his own show, The Colbert Réport, which will air right after The Daily Show starting this fall. It’s meant to be a takeoff on the political talk shows that litter the cable universe. I ask Colbert if he will feature roundtable discussions on the issues of the day.
"Fuck a roundtable!" he says. "It’s a card table discussion. A roundtable implies there is someone else important on the show. It’s going to be me talking into the camera because, let’s face it, people want to see this face shouting at the lens."
Colbert also wants people to say the show’s name correctly. The "t" in his last name and "Réport" are both silent. "It’s French, bitch."
It’s also probably going to be a big hit, requiring Colbert to deflect even more of these scurrilous accusations of credibility. His response is, of course, to fight back with the funny.
"I think America is ready for someone to the change the world through satire," he says. "I’m that guy. Jon shirked off the responsibility of using satire to lead a rebellion against the forces of darkness." (If that sounds a little Lord of the Rings-esque, it’s probably because Colbert admits to reading the book 40 times as a teenager. He was also big into Dungeons & Dragons.)
Clearly, Colbert isn’t buying the idea that their show is a force for information and truth. Neither is Samantha Bee, the show’s Canadian-born correspondent.
"It’s just such dangerous territory if you take yourself seriously on a comedy show because then it’s not funny any more," she says. "We just want to be funny. We’re not supposed to be meaningful… Nobody at the show believes the hype, and that’s a good thing. Because of that, I feel the quality will remain the same."
Colbert is the veteran of the show from its early days with host Craig Kilborn, when it was less political and more a parody of terrible local newscasts. Bee is the most recent full-time addition, after showing up at an audition in Toronto. Both will be on stage with some of the show’s writers for the Daily Show Secrets… Revealed! performance at Just For Laughs. Neither had many details about the program (these are secrets after all, plus they hadn’t rehearsed yet), but they did promise that the crew would take questions from the audience. (See sidebar for Hour’s preliminary questionnaire.)
Colbert offered up one tidbit about the changes in Stewart since he had his first child last year.
"Jon gained a lot of weight," he says. "You can’t tell because he sits down, but he is morbidly obese and they have to wheel him behind the desk. He poops in a bag."
Neither Colbert nor Bee are sure why people are so willing to offer themselves up as comedy cannon fodder on the show.
"I don’t know why people talk to us," Colbert says. "The camera lobotomizes people. There’s no reason to ever talk to the press unless you already talked to them and are trying to redeem your character."
Colbert says some people declined requests during the last election, saying, "I’d love to talk but I’m under strict orders not to."
(In the regular media, someone refusing to talk to you is often as much a sign of your power as those who clamour for your attention. Whatever that’s like.)
"I guess people just really want to be on TV," adds Bee. "They want to be on TV whether they have a message or think it will impress their friends and family, or launch their careers. I mean, come on."
It’s a testament to the show that people often think they use editing tricks to make the story interviews funnier than they actually are, but Colbert swears they just air what they get.
"I always try to keep a little bit of me and a little of them in the frame so you can see we are actually in the same room," he says.
Hmmn. Surely Bee can offer up some show skeletons for a fellow Canuck?
"I’ve got a whole shitload of bad gossip for you," she says. "Guess what? Everyone likes everyone else… This is totally a dream job."
I can’t stand… the movie Beaches. In every shot on a beach there is a horse galloping in the background.
Jon Stewart is… a speed freak. He drives a Shelby Cobra. It’s a muscle car [Colbert rattles off a series of car terms at breakneck speed]. Sounds like you’re into cars, too? I like ‘em. What do you drive? I drive a Volvo.
I think French Canadians… le rock.
Samantha Bee is a… fireplug.
Most people wouldn’t know I once took lessons in… Disco dance lessons. I was good too. I did cotillion as a kid and was voted best all-around dancer. I was in eighth grade and they gave me an engraved shot glass as the prize.
The most punchable media personality is… Tucker Carlson. That guy has speed bags on his shoulders.
I can’t stand… having someone’s ass in my face. Yesterday I was on an airplane and about 75 people wiped their buns on my face as they passed through the aisle.
Jon Stewart is … my father.
I think French Canadians… smoke too much. You know they’re going to ban smoking in bars and restaurants here soon? Oh God. The streets will run red with blood.
Stephen Colbert is a… dirty birdie.
Most people wouldn’t know I once took lessons in… I took lessons on how to be a blackjack dealer at an illegal Vietnamese casino. It was in an industrial park outside Ottawa… They yelled at me and I had to stop because I couldn’t deal fast enough. It was a sweatshop for young white women.
The most punchable media personality is… Robert Novak. He’s horrible.
Daily Show Secrets… Revealed!
At the Imperial Theatre (1432 Bleury)
July 23, 7 p.m.