Who Is Stephen Colbert?
After joining Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe, Stephen Colbert met comedians Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, and together they created and starred in both Exit 57 and Strangers with Candy. Colbert began appearing as a correspondent on The Daily Show in 1997, leading to the creation of his own showcase, The Colbert Report, in 2005. In 2015, the comedian took over as host of CBS' The Late Show.
Colbert was born on May 13, 1964, in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, the youngest of 11 children. In 1974, when he was 10, Colbert experienced what was likely the defining event of his childhood when his father and two of his brothers were killed in a plane crash. He grew introverted, finding solace in reading, especially science fiction and fantasy novels by authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien.
Colbert found a way to express himself through acting, which he did in several school plays at Charleston's Episcopal Porter-Gaud School. He later enrolled at Hampden-Sydney College of Virginia with the intention of becoming a philosophy major, but it wasn’t long before he reconsidered and transferred to Northwestern University, enrolling as a theater major.
Second City to 'The Daily Show'
After graduating from Northwestern in 1986, Colbert moved to Chicago and took a job in the offices of the Second City comedy troupe. Two years later, after taking improv classes there, he was asked to join the traveling group. He accepted the offer and spent the next two years on the road.
At Second City, he met comedians Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, and together they created and starred in two TV series: the sketch show Exit 57 (1995–1996) and the spoof of after-school specials Strangers with Candy (1999–2000); a movie based on the show came out in 2006.
In 1997, just before Strangers got picked up by Comedy Central, Colbert began appearing in episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as a conservative correspondent, in the guise of a humorless but hilarious persona he had perfected. With both Strangers and The Daily Show running—and the latter becoming a huge hit in the early 2000s—Colbert’s career was gaining traction.
'The Colbert Report'
In the fall of 2005, The Colbert Report began airing on Comedy Central, featuring Colbert as a starchy, blustery right-wing host—a parody of pundits who dominated the talk show airwaves. The show was instantly one of Comedy Central’s highest-rated shows, bringing in over a million viewers per episode in its first week.
Six months after The Colbert Report debuted, Colbert appeared as the featured speaker at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. With President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush just a few feet away, Colbert proceeded to give an off-color tirade that left the audience silent and had the critics divided—some praised him and others said he had crossed the line into disrespect. The controversy only ignited his popularity, though, and The Colbert Report became a Comedy Central powerhouse, winning several Emmys, including 2013 and 2014 awards for Outstanding Variety Series.
Offscreen, Colbert published I Am America (and So Can You!) in 2007 and contributed to 2004’s America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction. He also arranged (with Stewart) the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, a gathering in Washington, D.C., that served both to parody events staged by conservative commentator Glenn Beck and the Rev. Al Sharpton and to attempt to get a serious dialogue going on issues of the day.
On December 18, 2014, Colbert appeared in his final episode of The Colbert Report. His featured guest for the program was his friend "Grimmy," also known as the grim reaper.
'The Late Show'
In April 2014, after David Letterman announced his plans to retire in 2015, Colbert was selected to replace him as host of The Late Show. “Simply being a guest on David Letterman’s show has been a highlight of my career,” Colbert said. “I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave’s lead. I’m thrilled and grateful that CBS chose me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grind a gap in my front teeth.”
The Late Show took some time to find its new voice after premiering with Colbert on September 8, 2015, but it eventually climbed to the top of the ratings thanks to the host's deft handling of politically charged humor, particularly after President Donald Trump began dominating the news cycle. Colbert also became known for recurring segments like "Big Questions with Even Bigger Stars," which had him gazing up at the sky with his guest and engaging in absurd philosophical hypotheticals.
In March 2020, after the coronavirus outbreak shut down production on The Late Show, Colbert made headlines by taping monologues from his porch, his bathtub and other areas of his home.
Colbert has been married to his wife, Evelyn, since 1993.
In 2018, the comic opened up to Rolling Stone about his battles with anxiety. He said he used to take medication, until realizing during his time with Second City that the symptoms went away while he was performing.
"Creating something is what helped me from just spinning apart like an unweighted flywheel," he told the publication. "And I haven't stopped since. Even when I was a writer, I always had to be in front of a camera a little bit. I have to perform."
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