Over 400 students crammed into the Yale Law School auditorium Friday to hear television personality and author Stephen Colbert answer questions about comedy, politics and religion.
Though the conversation with Colbert, which was hosted and moderated by the Yale Political Union, began roughly 45 minutes after its scheduled starting time, students still welcomed Colbert with cheers and high-fives as he entered through the auditorium aisles. Colbert, who plays a conservative political pundit on his Comedy Central television show, “The Colbert Report,” shifted in and out of character throughout the event and discussed how a combination of breaking news and his personal views inform the direction of his show.
Though he described his television persona as being a “well intentioned, poorly-informed, high-status idiot,” Colbert said that there are times that he and his character are in agreement. Still, he said he chooses not to publicize these moments of consensus because he enjoys keeping the viewer uncertain about where he stands politically.
When asked whether he considers his character to be “politically correct,” Colbert said his character may not be politically correct but is always “correct.” Colbert said his character can make controversial comments without risk of ramifications.
“He can say terrible things and nobody blames him,” Colbert said.
Still, there are some topics that Colbert said he does not joke about, particularly in reference to religion.
During the recent Alfred E. Smith dinner held in New York City, Colbert said he removed a line from his speech about communion because it made him uncomfortable to joke about the body of Christ.
“Is that politically correct or is that being pious?” Colbert said. “I don’t know.”
Colbert answered most inquiries with witty responses that often poked fun at the person asking the question.
When asked about his daily schedule, Colbert said he wakes up at around noon when the sun is warm and shaves everything “from the chin down.”
Once the audience’s laughs had subsided, Colbert said his real schedule involves educating himself about current events and continually revising the script for the nightly program.
Colbert said he is constantly “cramming” to stay up to date on the day’s news.
Each morning, Colbert categorizes material for that evening’s show into three groups according to how well the idea has been developed at that point. Material in “the pantry” is nearly ready to be performed, while material in “the hopper” has not been written into a script yet, and “ideas” are vague notions about what might make a good comedic piece.
“If nothing is in the pantry, it’s going to be a rough day,” he said.
In response to a question about why he chose a career in comedy, Colbert retorted, “What’s the other option? Tragedy?”
As the youngest of eleven children in an Irish-Catholic family that Colbert called a “humor-acracy,” Colbert said that being funny became a type of currency between his siblings.
Colbert said there is great similarity between theater and politics because both involve communicating effectively and making emotional connections with an audience or constituency.
Colbert stayed after the talk to speak with students, answer further questions and even pose for “selfies” with a select few.
Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84, who helped facilitate the discussion after appearing on Colbert’s show last January, said Colbert was so popular among students that the crowd following him after this event rivaled the group that had surrounded Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 and Bill Clinton LAW ’73 a few weeks earlier.
Before the event, students waited for over an hour in lines that began inside the auditorium and stretched around the Law School courtyard multiple times. Members of the YPU were given priority access and some non-members were turned away due to the limited number of seats.
Sukriti Mohan ’17 said she was disappointed that she was not able to attend the talk and would have preferred if the YPU were clearer in directing students to arrive a few hours before the event.
“If I had known that I had to be there at 4 [p.m.] to get in, I would have been there,” she said.
Austin Igelman ’16 said that Colbert’s facial expressions, gestures and stage presence were most striking about the evening. He said he particularly enjoyed when Colbert ran around with his middle finger raised in protest to a remark about the “The Daily Show.”
“What really stood out to me, was how willing he was able to engage with the student body,” said Nick Styles ’14, vice president of operations for the Political Union. “He even engaged with the tapping and hissing that is so characteristic of the YPU event.”
While on campus, Colbert and his family visited the rare book library and several other attractions, accompanied by Amar.
“The Colbert Report” airs Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central and has been nominated for seven primetime Emmy Awards.
The News also sat down with Colbert for an exclusive YTV interview about comedy, speaking and his split personality.