The Colbert Report


WASHINGTON — In selecting Stephen Colbert to replace David Letterman as host of the “Late Show,” CBS has waged war on America’s heartland — or so proclaims that Palm Beach font of heartland mirth, Rush Limbaugh.

Don’t you believe it, Heartlanders.

But wait, there’s more. CBS also must be waging war on Asian-Americans since a Twitter activist who calls herself Angry Asian Woman called for an end to “The Colbert Report” late last month following a joke she didn’t like.

Apparently, Colbert in his pretend role as a loudmouthed, conservative blowhard (keep guessing) made a crack about the “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever” in response to the new Washington Redskins Original American Foundation created by team owner Dan Snyder, who refuses to change the Redskins mascot name. It was satire, folks.

If you have to explain a joke … you may be living in post-humor America.

Oy!

May I say that? Just to be safe, let’s go with heavens to Murgatroyd, begging forgiveness from all Murgatroydians extant and, again, just to be safe, nonextant.

Finally, no offense to Snagglepuss.

But back to Rush, who elaborated as follows: “What this hire means is a redefinition of what is ‘funny’ and a redefinition of what is comedy, and they’re blowing up the 11:30 format under the guise that the world’s changing and people don’t want the kind of comedy that Carson gave us or even Letterman.

“They don’t want that anymore. It’s the media planting a flag here. I think it’s maybe the media’s last stand, but it’s a declaration. There’s no unity in this hire. They’ve hired a partisan, so-called comedian to run a comedy show.”

Here’s the thing, and I say this with all due respect, Colbert is a comedian whose shtick is to present an exaggerated impression of a conservative talk show host. He’s a character! Sort of like, spoiler alert, Bill O’Reilly.

You don’t hear O’Reilly complaining about his role as comic foil. One, he has a sense of humor. Two, it’s good for him. Three, he knows that when people are paid millions to yack on TV, they don’t get to whine when someone else making millions gets a new gig. I wouldn’t be surprised to see O’Reilly among Colbert’s first guests.

To put it plainly, the fellow who will be sitting in the “Late Show” chair is nothing like the character on the “Repor(t),” which is both a delightful and grievous prospect. Many will mourn the exit of Comedy Central’s Colbert, but millions more will celebrate his new role. Having met the real-life Colbert, the lad from Charleston, S.C., I’m confident viewers will find him every bit the Everyman as was all-time favorite Johnny Carson.

The one time I appeared on “The Colbert Report,” Colbert met me in the Green Room beforehand and, speaking as the polite Southerner he is, said, “Now, I’m going to be in character on stage, so don’t let me put words in your mouth.” You can’t say I wasn’t forewarned.

In real life, Colbert, the youngest of 11 children, is a regular guy with an extraordinary wit who is as heartland as they come, if you judge “heartland” as devoted to family and devout of spirit. He became a funny guy in part as a result of tragedy when, at age 10, his father and two of his brothers died in a plane crash. Colbert inherited his brothers’ Bill Cosby record collection, which he says he listened to night after night.

From personal grief, he blossomed into a national treasure — wickedly funny, charming and charismatic. That he has made jokes at the expense of nearly everyone is merely further testament to his qualifications. An equal opportunity offender in a politically correct world. What more can one ask of a comedian?

Of all people on the planet, Americans have always been among the quickest to laugh, especially at ourselves. In my experience, Heartlanders have the best sense of humor of all because they don’t take themselves so seriously. The degree to which one takes oneself seriously is a fairly reliable measure of both breeding and intelligence. Thus, Limbaugh insults his own audience when he suggests that they should be offended.

The notion that a fake persona’s comedy routine is a threat to the American heartland bears a striking resemblance to the sort of literal-mindedness that leads to inquisitions and the Taliban. If you can’t take a joke, you could always change the channel. But you’ll miss all the fun.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.