Memo to Stephen Colbert:
Why did you do it, Stephen? Your on-air reminder the other day that you were abandoning the faux character you’ve depicted on TV for the past decade arguably is a study in bad timing.
I realize that the right-wing asshole you’ve been playing was not really you. He was venting his putative petulance as a set-up for your comedic barbs. But now that American voters have spoken, veering sharply to the right at the polls, this asshole is essentially running the country — the Senate, the governorships, even the judiciary. This is exactly the character we need you to help us laugh at.
Now we realize, Stephen, that you have issues of your own. You are moving away from your loyal Comedy Central family to take over David Letterman’s formidable slot — that’s when it was first revealed that you’d go out of character. You will command a vastly larger audience and will receive a vastly larger paycheck.
But we don’t want you to go bland on us, Stephen. Have you considered what role you are going to assume?
You don’t project the neighborly Nebraska humor of a Johnny Carson. You don’t spout YouTube jokes like Fallon. You don’t even deliver sharp Top Ten lists like Letterman (we’ve seen you try; not a good idea).
You can be an effective interviewer, Stephen, but in your new persona, you’ll need to give guests time to talk. Jon Stewart skillfully fawns over celebrities, but you don’t even give good fawn.
So maybe it’s time to sift through a list of alternate characters whom you might portray, or at least assign co-hosts to regularly portray.
Audiences seem to like media heavies, Stephen — witness the success of “Nightcrawler,” in which Jake Gyllenhaal portrays a skeletal sociopath who exploits people’s misfortunes and sells the footage to TV news shows. I could see you taking on the persona of TMZ’s Harvey Levin, presiding over a platoon of nightcrawlers.
For that matter, you could do a cool take on Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, who also delivers weekly talking points to Republican Congressmen. You’ve confronted Bill O’Reilly often enough, Stephen, and instructed him how to remake his history lessons. Now it’s time to take on O’Reilly’s boss.
And while we’re at it, if you’re going to portray media mavens, why not go even bigger — say, Rupert Murdoch? Surely you’ve noticed that George Clooney plans to make a film showing how the journalists at Murdoch’s London newspapers abandoned the boring business of covering news stories; they simply hacked into the phones of potential news sources and paid off cops who got in the way (Clooney’s film will be based on the book “Hack Attack,” by Nick Davies). You’d play a cool Rupert, Stephen.
Putting all this aside, there’s always another other option: You could simply play yourself. Trouble is, none of us know who you really are, Stephen, because you’ve so effectively assumed other identities. We know who Jon Stewart is: He can sometimes be a brilliant liberal advocate, sometimes an open wound. But he resonates.
In your new role, Stephen, you have a real opportunity to entertain a vast audience and even provide some insights into our social order. And meanwhile the character you used to play will be running the country.
I hope you can make your peace with that reality.