Perhaps the most indelible image from Stephen Colbert’s trip to Iraq is the clip of the faux conservative firebrand getting his hair shorn. In a show of solidarity with America’s fighting men and women, he had his head shaved on camera by Gen. Ray Odierno, on orders from President Obama himself.
But what Colbert remembers most from his week of shows inside the combat zone — titled “Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando” — was the connection he made with that live audience that had little to do with shear lunacy.
“As friends of mine had told me who had done this kind of work before, there was an immediate and startling affection from the men and women over there,” he said shortly after his return to the States. “They’re grateful to you. That immediately gives you a purpose beyond just the purpose to make them laugh. It becomes to make them laugh, and to show your appreciation to them.
“The response was deeply emotional and not intellectual. It was a very beautiful feeling and one that will take me a while to (assess) and extricate from the tangle of my present exhaustion.”
The trip to Iraq was the highest-profile event in a year of triumph for Colbert. In September “The Colbert Report” won an Emmy for writing for a variety, music or comedy program. The show attracts an average of 1.5 million viewers per night and draws more males in the 18-24 demo than any other broadcast latenight show, according to Nielsen Media Research.