I just finished a brief biography of Jon Stewart. It was a remarkably uncomfortable read. Not that it told me anything horrible, or that the writing was 50 Shades-levels of atrocious. My own brain just nagged me the whole way through, you know, he doesn't really like talking about any of this himself, isn't this obnoxiously nosy? Jon Stewart is the sort of person who will gladly tell you what he thinks of things whether you've asked him or not; it's just almost always in the present tense. He does not seem to have oodles of patience for navel-gazing, at least not with other people present.

I did finish it, although I needn't have bothered. It was cobbled together almost entirely out of things Stewart has dropped over the years in interviews, so technically it was all what I'd consider fair game. It happened to be by the same author as the Colbert one I'd dug up, and while I found it annoying that she paid little attention to internal motivation in that one, the same little bit of attention she paid in this one seemed intrusive and out-of-bounds. This is entirely my own hangup -- by the standards of celebrity biographies, it was utterly inoffensive, and probably at least accurate enough to stand up in court. I just really don't like it when, in the absence of compelling scandal or other newsworthy event, press tries to pry open boxes that the owner has kept firmly shut.

I am not unaware of the irony, and possibly hypocrisy, of getting that out of me. But you know, there is a reason my writing here is peppered with "seems" and "appears" and "probably" and "evidently". I am well aware that I'm just guessing from observations. I'm good at guessing, but not perfect, and I'm open about the fact that being wrong to someone's face is an important part of my method. I absolutely do not want anyone to take me as an authority on anything.

Stephen Colbert, on the other hand, is a much more comfortable subject to read about. I don't think I'd have found him this interesting had I tried this back when he was at his old gig; while he was on The Colbert Report, he was surprisingly cagey about who he really was and how he really felt. You could guess a fair amount of it. He was never the guy he played on TV, but he was that guy's head writer, and if you watched what he made fun of and how, you could infer that he was essentially a social liberal who responded rather poorly to various forms of bigotry, and had a soft spot for things like South Carolina, and super-nerdy science.

Why he felt so compelled to keep his real views under wraps at that point, I don't know, but he doesn't anymore, and he has specifically invited his audience to be curious about him in the same way he is curious about his guests. I can give a much better guess as to why he's doing this -- Colbert has a history of exposing himself for scrutiny as a sort of test of mettle. Be intensely self-conscious, notice it's not actually going that poorly, suddenly breathe easier as you come to the realization that you can do this after all. There's an undercurrent of 'will it still be okay if I'm kind of weird where you all can see me?' which I think anyone who's grown up a couple orders of magnitude smarter than is strictly good for them can understand.

It really will still be okay for him, and I hope that's sinking in. Colbert is geeky as fuck, but also genuinely interested in other people, and very kind. CBS thinks they've given him a contract; he thinks they've given him a research grant. From that perspective, The Late Show is going swimmingly.

The one stumbling block Colbert is running into is that he keeps wanting to engage people about deep philosophical subjects. One of them is comparative religions, which just makes everybody go into this instinctive panic. Even Oprah kind of blinked at him and went 'uh...'.

[If you don't live in the US, or at least watch a lot of our TV, you may not appreciate that religion is an incredibly touchy subject in America right now. It's almost impossible to say anything for/against it without getting dogpiled by people who are against/for it. And it's almost always Evangelical Christianity at stake there, simply because Evangelicals are the loudest of the sects, and the most apt to meddle in politics. ]

Nobody has stopped Colbert from poking his nose into it because he is himself religious. He argues when people call him a 'devout' Catholic, so let's go with 'observant' -- that one's pretty objectively provable, as he teaches Sunday school from time to time, and used to do his Ash Wednesday shows with the cross smudged on his forehead. He recently got away with an entire week of Pope jokes, when Francis was in the US, and when he was done I knew a lot more about Popes, because he had to stop and give a history lesson in the middle of it so the audience would know why they were laughing. He brought a small panel of prominent American Catholics on stage and they mainly sat there looking like deer in headlights. Colbert kept trying to engage them in an actual discussion about how theoretical Catholicism interacted with their real lives -- questions which presumed different people would have different answers, and that this was totally fine -- and none of them seemed to know what the hell to do with a conversation about religion that didn't involve constantly defending themselves.

I would be incredibly interested in reading anything Colbert wrote about theology/philosophy, in general or in the form of a memoir, but I'm pretty sure no one will ever convince him to sit down and write it out. He wants to play witty dialogue ping-pong too much. He probably could write something that sustained itself for 300 pages, but I don't know if he'd have much fun doing it.

One thing I was curious about that nobody thus far has given me is getting a better picture of how in hell Stewart and Colbert ended up best friends. I'm not sure anyone outside of the two of them really knows. Much of the staff seemed unaware that Stewart even had a social setting before Colbert somehow triggered it. No one is on record with direct commentary, but the impression I get is that they all considered it mystifying, bizarre, annoying, and/or threatening, in various proportions that depended on how much the speaker objected to the boss playing favorites. One thing everybody agrees on is that Stewart does not keep many intimate friends, and there is some substantial respect for the fact that Colbert is one of the very few.

I don't see Stewart answering the question in any depth, unfortunately, and while Colbert would probably give his side of how it progressed to an interested listener, he would probably not venture to comment on why it worked. That would involve talking about the interior of Stewart's head rather a lot. Colbert will happily explain himself to just about anyone who expresses earnest curiosity; explain other people, less so.

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