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March 29, 2004

Stephen Colbert is the familiar stone-faced senior correspondent whose cracking wise has set the standard at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Alongside his former Second City main stage players Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, Colbert created two subversively funny, off-kilter programs; for HBO Productions, the sketch-based Exit 57 and Strangers With Candy, Comedy Central's first original sit-com series. In 2003, the trio returned to the stage with an adaptation of their book Wigfield, a profile of "the can do town that just may not" as seen through its resident's eyes.

As if that's not enough, Colbert was a writer/performer on The Dana Carvey Show and can be heard as the voice of Ace, one half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo on Robert Smigel's SNL TV Funhouse segments.

Conversation Highlights

"I went to Northwestern and studied theater there for two years, and so I assumed that I was going to be a dramatic actor. I wore a lot of black, or at least the same color top and bottom, green, blue, and the boots to match, and a little eye shadow, and I had long hair and a beard. And I was a poet slash jerk and I shared my misery with people in what I thought was a very appetizing way."

Did you wear a beret?

(laughs) "Yes! No! A tam o' shanter! For those of you who don't know it is a plaid beret with a puffy ball on top. Which really is, because I was so uncool, and didn't even know the vocabulary of coolness, even like the false vocabulary of coolness, that I didn't perceive that in any way as diminishing from my hip. It was the '80s, man, anything goes, I didn't wear ties, I wore a brooch. Yeah man, parachute pants, chemical warfare shirts, my sunglasses flipped up and there was no lens, they just flipped up."

"When I was at Second City, these people from HBO Downtown Productions saw me, Paul (Dinello), Amy (Sedaris) and a guy called Mitch Rouse do a show at one of the theaters that doesn't exist there anymore in Chicago called the Second City Northwest and they said 'Do you guys work blue, because that Def Comedy Jam is doing fucking great numbers. And we wanna do a white one!'"

"I see myself as a performer who learned to write through improvisation and then sort of refined that through necessity, you know, of employment, like I kept getting hired for jobs where I had to write. So, I pretty much do about half and half right now. But I don't think of myself either way, I'm a comedian. I'm a comedian, and whether that's performing or writing, I just like making people laugh."

"After Strangers (with Candy) got cancelled, we (Amy and Paul) didn't plan to pitch anything together right after because the week after that I found myself vomiting, weeping and quoting scripture because I'd spent three years trying to think of the worst possible choices anyone could ever make, morally, for every character, for three years, pretty much, 24 hours a day, and I thought Strangers with Candy was actually corrupting my soul at some level, just having to think that way for three years."

- On the character of Stephen Colbert
"I kinda wanted to be like Brian Unger because he was handsome and was doing it like real news, and that's what I liked. And personally I liked Stone Philips, because he had great hair, which I thought I could do - I had the shelf - and a big neck, and a manly head cock when he talked, it was like, 'that's when the Robinson's - found out.' And so, for those pieces I do on The Daily Show, for those pieces I did then, that originally had more of the newsy quality, it was definitely Stone Philips. But since then, really, it's like anything goes, as long as I get to be an idiot. I just love being, my favorite thing is just how stupid can we be? Yeah, I just love being stupid."