Everything on the show has my name on it, every bit of the set. One of the things I said to the set designer—who has done everything, I mean even Meet The Press, he does that level of news design—was "One of your inspirations should be [DaVinci's painting] The Last Supper." All the architecture of that room points at Jesus' head, the entire room is a halo, and he doesn't have a halo." And I said, "On the set, I'd like the lines of the set to converge on my head." And so if you look at the design, it all does, it all points at my head. And even radial lines on the floor, and on my podium, and watermarks in the images behind me, and all the vertices, are right behind my head. So there's a sort of sun-god burst quality about the set around me. And I love that. That's status.Speaking of Colbert and religion: Did you see his show on Thursday, with Paul Begala as the guest? Begala is going on about how he needed to teach Bill Clinton how to get his ideas across in short, simple form for the news. Begala describes how he made his point to Bill Clinton, who was bellyaching about how his wonky policies couldn't be condensed into sound bites. Begala reached in his back pocket and pulled out a copy of the New Testament that he's been carrying since 1979. At this point on the show, Begala actually pulls out the tattered, taped-together book and says he highlighted John 3:16 and handed it to Clinton. Begala hands the opened book to Colbert, points to the verse, tells Colbert to read it, and says he's going to time him to prove -- as he proved to Clinton -- how much can be said in 5 seconds. Colbert takes a slight glance at the book, flips it shut, looks straight at Begala and says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that those who believe in him shall not die but have eternal life." Begala says, triumphantly, "Four and a half seconds!" And Colbert says "That's the Christian sound bite."
I was struck by this moment on the show. The interview was going very well -- Begala speaking crisply (about speaking crisply) and Colbert slipping in perfect zingers. And then Begala wants to use the New Testament to prove a point about how he got through to Clinton. I felt that, reciting the verse, Colbert was not being the Colbert Report character but that his own religion was dictating that he had to say the verse as a demonstration of his own faith, and it wasn't right to fool around with that. I can't say why I feel so sure. The Colbert character would, I think, have been more pleased with himself to know the verse. You'd have felt the preen. I experienced this moment as a startling statement of faith, the kind of thing you don't normally see on TV.
The subject of Colbert and religion is an interesting one. He used to do "This Week in God" on "The Daily Show." When he was on "Fresh Air" a year ago, he talked about religion with Terry Gross:
Mr. COLBERT: This Week in God is--you know, This Week in God is, for me, a tightrope, because I--while I'm, you know, not a particularly religious person, I do go to church, which makes me kind of odd for my profession. You know, most people can't understand why I do, other comedians. And I have to walk that thin line because I don't want to criticize anyone's religions for the fact that it is a religion, and what's funny to me is what people do in the name of religion. ...I don't have a conclusion I'm driving at here. I love Steve Colbert and "The Colbert Report," and I'm fascinated by religion and comedy and the way the dissonance between the two affects a performer who is actually a believer.
GROSS: Now you grew up in a family with--What?--11 children?
Mr. COLBERT: Yeah, I'm one of 11 kids. I'm the youngest.
GROSS: And was it a religious family? You say you go to church and...
Mr. COLBERT: Oh, absolutely.
Mr. COLBERT: We're, you know, very devout and, you know, I still go to church and, you know, my children are being raised in the Catholic Church. And I was actually my daughters' catechist last year for First Communion, which was a great opportunity to speak very simply and plainly about your faith without anybody saying, `Yeah, but do you believe that stuff?' which happens a lot in what I do.
GROSS: Can I ask you a kind of serious question about faith?
Mr. COLBERT: I've been turning all of your funny questions into serious things for an hour or so. I don't see why you can't do the same to me.
GROSS: In the sketch we heard earlier from "This Week In God," you talked about the Christian pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control.
Mr. COLBERT: Right.
GROSS: Now the Catholic Church opposes birth control, which...
Mr. COLBERT: They do.
GROSS: ...I presume you do not and...
Mr. COLBERT: Presume away.
GROSS: ...so how do you deal with contradictions between, like, the church and the way you live your life, which is something that a lot of people in the Catholic Church have to deal with?
Mr. COLBERT: Well, sure. You know, that's the hallmark of an American Catholic, is the individuation of America and the homogenation of the church; homogenation in terms of dogma. I love my church and I don't think that it actually makes zombies or unquestioning people. I think it's actually a church that values intellectualism, but certainly, it can become very dogmatically rigid.
Somebody once asked me, `How do you be a father'--'cause I'm a father of three children--`and be anti-authoritarian?' And I said, `Well, that's not nearly as hard as being anti-authoritarian and being a Roman Catholic,' you know? That's really patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. I don't know. You know, I don't believe that I can't disagree with my church and I'll leave it at that.
UPDATE: Ambivablog questions my use of the word "dissonance." So let me say that I mean it in a good way. It's more difficult to be comical around a subject you respect, and working through a difficulty makes what you do more interesting. By contrast, when George Carlin jokes about religion, his comedy on the subject feels cheap and thin, because it's just flat-out obvious that he hates religion. I'd much rather listen to Colbert on the subject, and not just because I'm not entertained by hate. Colbert has to struggle with a problem, and he chooses to make comedy out of a subject that is complicated for him. I love that.
ADDED: You can listen to the great interview with Terry Gross here.