Stephen Colbert and his writers at
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Writing for Comedy Central show comes with a few complexities

How many people does it take to prepare Comedy Central’s ever-popular “Colbert Report”? More than the organizers of the annual New York Comedy Festival were ready for.

Organizers laid out 17 chairs at New York’s venerable Town Hall for the talk-show host and his crew of writers and producers to discuss the secrets behind the making of his program. But Stephen Colbert brought out 17 people plus himself, meaning that one writer was left sitting on a wooden stool.

During the proceedings, Colbert and cohorts talked about a pressure-filled day in which they identify news items that could lead to potential bits and segments on the program, which they try to ready at least a day in advance so they have a little wiggle room in case some of the jokes or ideas fall flat. Potential ideas are categorized as “pantry”(freshly prepared and ready for use); “hopper” (an idea producers would like to use, but that needs refining); and, simply, “raw ideas.”

Not everything works, said Colbert. After all, he’s playing a character, and the jokes have to be items that would be of interest to his preening, egomaniacal talk-show leader, or else, why would he want to talk about them? “There’s a huge difference between what’s funny on paper and what’s funny in your mouth,” Colbert said. “Some things are deadly serious in your mouth.”

Audience members lobbed dozens of interesting questions at the team, wondering why only one woman, Meredith Scardino, was on staff (Scardino asked how the questioner could be sure she was female), or what were some of the staff’s favorite segments. One curious fan wondered how often the real Colbert agreed with the viewpoints his on-screen character espoused.

“I sometimes agree with my character, and it’s really important you don’t know when,” Colbert said, jokingly estimating that the two worldviews converged maybe “13.4%” of the time.

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