Maybe I'm just having an incredibly cranky-making week, but I am starting to get ticked at the slew of articles with headlines that talk about 'the problem with Stephen Colbert'. I keep reading them, and inevitably it turns out that the problem the author is having is actually with CBS -- they are pissed that the network didn't hire a woman. Getting women into positions of prominence in comedy may well be a problem, but it has nothing to do with Colbert per se. They would have that problem with literally anyone in the role who did not fit their favorite list of criteria.

This is what I'm talking about with 'the perfect is the enemy of the good'. They think CBS's choice of host is unacceptable because he's not a she, even though Colbert arguably ticks most if not all of the other boxes they care about. I'm not kidding here. I'm not defending the guy just because, 'hey, dude makes me laugh, he can do no wrong'. I decided I liked him for some very specific reasons.

I will here gloss over Colbert's personal history of charity and civil rights work -- which he has largely accomplished in-character as a complete idiot, no less -- which stems from a family history of same. You can find out more about that at literally any point in the complete archives of his old gig, which are at colbertnation.com, and show no signs of ever being taken down. I am unsure whether being religious helps or hinders his image with other people interested in social justice; generally, those people tend to lean leftwards, and Christianity does not necessarily play well in that crowd these days. I will note, however, that he is as liberal theologically as he is politically, which is very very very. Aside from his tendency to geek out on catechism and use bits of Dune as a parable, he once told Fr. Thomas Rosica -- who has a list of awards and credentials as long as his cassock, including 'English-Language Assistant to the Press Office of the Holy See' -- that he thought women should be allowed into the priesthood, and kiiiind of expected it to end the interview.

I find myself disappointed that so many people can find nothing to like about the situation. The reason I think Colbert was a pretty good choice is much more fundamental than all that. One of the reasons feminists are so adamant about having a female host for these things is that when male hosts interview female guests, to be blunt, they run us over. Men and women tend to be taught different conversational styles in our culture, particularly when it comes to turn-taking procedures. In traditionally male-coded interactions, getting your turn in conversation is typically accomplished by just waiting for the other guy to take a breath, and butting in. In traditionally female-coded interactions, it's a longer process. Person A speaks at some length, leaving micropauses between phrases, into which Person B interjects a series of sentence fragments, both to affirm that they're listening, and to indicate that they want a turn to speak.

When these two styles mix, what usually happens is that as soon as the person using female-coded style leaves a micropause for the other person to request a turn, the person using male-coded style sees them as ceding the floor and just takes over. There are other differences, particularly in how eye contact and space/posture are used to indicate reactions to the other speaker, but usually it's the turn-taking that leaves female interview subjects feeling like 'you had me here to talk to me, and then you didn't fucking let me talk'. On top of that, people generally expect female-presenting folk to use female-style, so when they try to fix it by smashing their way in male-coded style, other people see it as a violation of expected conduct and decide they're rude.

Watch Colbert with Elon Musk. Now watch him with Amy Schumer. He's bi-dialectical here, and flips back and forth with incredible ease. He speaks Ladyperson really really well. It's unusual, but not surprising if you hear him talk about his family -- Colbert is the "baby of eleven" and has been beloved of the wimminfolk all his life. As the length and/or importance of the story rises, the odds that it involves his mother or his sisters approaches 1. I suppose you could argue that since he's not female-identified he's not a native speaker, but he sure as fuck learned through immersion.

There's a fair amount of evidence that the female-coded style is how Colbert himself prefers to run things. I'm sure he has many good friends who are not public figures, but I happen to know he has two who are -- Jon Stewart and Steve Carell -- with whom he has interacted extensively in front of cameras, where I can see them. Colbert is unguarded with the two of them, even when in-character, and he is very hands-on, leans very close, leaves lots of conversational openings, and signals extensively with overlaps and false starts when he wants a turn to talk. Stewart and Carell have evidently internalized 'this is how you interact with Stephen', and treat him the same way in return, even though it's not generally how they behave with others, particularly other men.

(Stewart's case is especially marked. He's pretty dudely about personal space most of the time, but he and Colbert stand on each other's feet a lot. The more emotional the moment, the more pronounced it is. You can see it very starkly during Colbert's unscripted thank-you-and-farewell on The Daily Show: Every time Colbert reaches out to him, Stewart automatically reaches back, mostly without even looking.

Also of note is that one of the reasons Stewart has gotten such good interviews out of so many varied people is that he's tumbled onto the idea that most people think the false-start turn-taking technique connotes patience and respect. He abandons it when his guest has proven they deserve neither, but he uses it extensively even on Bill O'Reilly, which is probably why the two of them have recreational arguments rather than angry shouting matches.)

This gives me hope for two main reasons. One is that I give Colbert excellent odds of making good on his Glamour essay, because he's already demonstrated he knows how to do it. This is not a guy who is going to flail blindly at 'what women want' on the advice of ad execs and random internet commenters; this is a guy who will ask women what they want, and probably understand the answer, because he already speaks the dialect in which this discussion ought to be taking place.

And two, if Colbert can do this, then the other straight, white, Christian, cisgender dudebros of the world have no excuse. The efforts of someone who ticks nearly every box for "normative/default human" in our society to bridge the gap from the other side are not worthless. Conformity itself does not remove the pressure to conform further, or stop the shaming when you don't; it just makes people concentrate those efforts on specific pressure points. Life is not the Oppression Olympics, and privilege does not always keep you from getting it in the neck. Colbert looks very much like he's "normal", and it turns out that he's very much not. He does know enough about how this works to realize that his isn't the only story, and that he should mostly ask his questions, and then shut up and let other people talk.

No, Stephen Colbert is probably not your Platonic ideal of a talk show host. Nobody is, or ever will be. He might still be really good at this.

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