From his New York office, with his feet propped up on his desk (I could tell from his voice), satirical news anchor Stephen Colbert fielded softball questions and batted one-liners at student journalists. The conference call was a chance for Colbert to promote his upcoming “Rally to Restore Sanity,” which will take place next Saturday, Oct. 30, from 12 to 3 p.m. on the National Mall.
“I love you. And my mom loves you. She wants me to ask you to leave your wife and marry her,” opened one fawning aspiring journalist. No conflict of interests here.
Fake news anchor Jon Stewart will hold a competing “Rally to Restore Truthiness and Sanity” at the same time. In the same place. Because it’s the same media stunt.
I’d call it a political stunt, but the event seems about as weighty as a helium balloon held by a clown wearing a “Change We Can Believe In” pin.
For Yale students who would like to attend the rally, the Yale Democrats and Yale International Relations Association have chartered buses to take students to and from D.C. on Saturday. Round-trip tickets are $50, on sale Friday in Commons.
What follows is a rough transcript of the conversation with Colbert, edited for brevity and reorganized to make everyone sound marginally more intelligent.
Student journalist: Why should people come to your rally, as opposed to Jon’s?
Stephen Colbert: I don’t think it’s possible to rally for sanity. What are you going to do — get extremely moderate? Going to Jon Stewart’s rally is like hanging out on the quad. If you come to my rally, you’ll learn something new. It’s not about conservatism. It’s about new experiences. And, for college students, conservatism probably is a new experience.
SJ: Do you think any trouble might arise between your rally and Jon’s?
Colbert: I think his people might get dangerously reasonable. They might go sane with power.
SJ: What are you most afraid of in the world?
Colbert: Bears. Immigrant bears. Gay immigrant bears. Canadian bears, I guess, would be the short way of saying that.
SJ: You’ve asked people to dress as their greatest fears at the rally. Any suggestions?
Colbert: Is it possible to dress up as a mosque?
SJ: How has the state of fear changed since when you were in college?
Colbert: Back then, the fear was nuclear annihilation from the Russians. It was a great, crisp fear. Oh, and AIDS started when I was in college. Those were the two biggies: fear of communists and fear of gay people. I guess in some ways they’re the same as they are now, since we’re still constructed to be afraid of gay people, and communists are secretly controlling our government.
SJ: What do you hope people will get out of your rally?
Colbert: I want them to be to be acting out of emotion and not out of reason. Rationality gets you things like the atomic bomb. Whereas fearing the atomic bomb is what kept us safe doing the Cold War.
Cora Lewis: What about fear do you think is productive in our nation right now?
Colbert: If you drop your fear of your enemies, people become complacent and make their decisions through reason. Fear is ubiquitous. And I don’t even know what ubiquitous means.
For instance, we got into this financial crisis as a result of fear: Everyone was afraid of being left behind and jumped on top of the idea of bungled derivatives. Those decisions are not being made through careful consideration. They’re being made through fear.
CL: But they seem like pretty bad decisions.
Colbert: But … they get things done. Have you ever had a term paper you’ve had to get done in one night? A real overnight wonder? You got that done because you were afraid of not getting it done. Fear lights a fire under you.
SJ: Do you think there are other motivators out there, besides fear?
Colbert: Money. Cash. Credit card companies motivate people with airline miles. Fear, cash, airline miles. That’s pretty much it.
SJ: How is your rally any different from Glenn Beck’s rally in August?
Colbert: I believe Glenn Beck’s rally was a religious festival. This is not going to be a religious event. I find God to be too soothing and calming.
SJ: What will you do if something goes wrong at the rally?
Colbert: Obviously bursting into tears and curling up in the fetal position ranks high as my backup plan.
SJ: Do you fear the power that college students can have at the polls when they’re motivated?
Colbert: If students are away at college, can they vote? I don’t know how that works.
SJ: Is there anything you think all college students should be afraid of?
Colbert: Graduating. I would slow down my coursework. Just stretch your credits out as much as possible.
SJ: Should we be afraid of unemployment?
Colbert: You’ll be fine. Work in the fields.
Student journalist with an accent: What can we do to become more fearful?
Colbert: Come to my rally. Do you have an accent?
Student journalist with an accent: Yes.
Colbert: What are you doing in America? Can I see some papers? Okay, we’re going to take your name, and don’t worry — someone will be looking in on you.
Correction: October 22, 2010
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Stephen Colbert.