I was initially put off by The Colbert Report. It took me awhile to be able to really appreciate what Colbert was doing with it. When this spinoff of The Daily Show arrived, I was fooled like many others because Colbert's way of operating on it is to play the role of a Fox News pundit. And Colbert - who, in real life, is a liberal Democrat - plays the role very, very convincingly. Like a lot of the actual pundits, Colbert defends his beliefs by making attack statements that are so over the top, a viewer tuning in for the first time might mistake Stephen Colbert the character for the real thing.
Lending credence to this image is Colbert's staunch refusal to let himself get out of character, ever. He's like a political version of Andy Kaufman; you don't know when he's out playing Stephen Colbert the pompous One Percent pundit, or Stephen Colbert the real person upon whom the pundit is loosely based. Both Colbert the character and Colbert the person are devoted Catholics from South Carolina. Colbert the pundit is a right winger, while Colbert the person goes left. Colbert the person shows up occasionally on talk shows to talk about the differences between himself and his character, and confesses that he doesn't even let his kids watch The Colbert Report because he's afraid they might take it seriously. One wonders how much this can conflict at times, because this is a guy who spoke at a right wing dinner and underhandedly mocked the entire audience, which had invited him to speak under the mistaken impression that he believed everything he said, and created a Superpac. ("Building a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow!")
The Colbert Report might appear just an extension of The Daily Show at first glance, but whereas The Daily Show is a news show there to mock the news and newsmakers, The Colbert Report takes those stories and preaches to a converted audience by twisting and turning them to meet his beliefs. Pundits do this very same thing, so the genius of Stephen Colbert can be even more appreciated once you stop to think about the fact that Colbert is doing this in a way which mocks these pundits and takes their sound bites to such an extreme that we know he's winking at us the whole time.
Like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report usually begins with a rundown of the day's top stories from the news. Instead of being content to merely point at them and laugh the way Daily Show host Jon Stewart does, Colbert squeezes them to wring out any possible context, no matter how flimsy, to twist into an extreme right agenda he mocks by pretending to peddle. Once he's done doing that, he then gets to one of his various segments, like The Word or Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger. In The Word, he takes a current hot topic and invents a term to use as a point of reference. Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger is just what it sounds like, a thumbs-up thumbs-down to the day's various newsmakers. No matter what, Colbert always has his agenda, and everything he says and does is a way of "promoting" it. The final section of the show, like The Daily Show, features Colbert taking up the interviewer's chair for a special guest. Unlike Jon Stewart, who plays his interviews straight, Colbert manages to find a way to stay in character throughout his interviews, as a way of teasing his guest and, again, pushing, twisting, and contorting a phony right wing agenda.
Colbert winks and stuffs his tongue firmly into his cheek through the whole show. He is the clear star of The Colbert Report, and he never, ever lets his audience forget that. I don't believe it's an accident that The Colbert Report lacks the correspondent segments which frequently show up on The Daily Show. If Colbert needs an outside opinion, he usually brings in a guest whose expertise is in whatever the subject is. And when he does that, he usually precedes the introduction of that guest by going off on a true believer rant before quipping "…And nobody can convince me otherwise! Now, here to convince me otherwise is…" There are times when Colbert himself will venture out into the real world for a field report, and these can be very, very painful to watch. They're usually dragged out, and Colbert frequently tends to trail off into gibberish.
Colbert's self-ego-stroking extends to the studio, which features a big desk shaped like a C. He has a segment called Formidable Opponent in which he debates himself, and when he introduces the guest of the night, instead of the guest walking out, he says the name of the guest before prancing over to an interview area where the guest just happens to already be sitting there waiting, which means he's the one getting the applause. It adds to the illusion, and Colbert, of course, appreciates the way the studio audience chants his name at the beginning of every show.
The Colbert Report is news and punditry farce brilliantly written and performed. There's nothing quite like it on TV.