I'm still watching The Late Show. I have mixed feelings about this. It's the first piece of network TV I've actually wanted to watch in, I dunno, a decade? I haven't really watched television since I moved out of my college dorm and into an apartment where I'd have to pay for it. I eventually got tired of moving the television, in fact, and got a TV tuner card for the computer, so I could ditch the TV and use the monitor for my Playstation.

I watch things that have been on TV, usually in large blocks while sitting at a computer, but I gave up on this scheduled-shows deal even before the Dawn of the DVR. This whole thing where I remember that there is a thing that airs on a regular basis that I have to also consume on a regular basis -- CBS.com only has the last five episodes up for free, and remember, not paying for TV that already makes me watch ads to begin with -- is weird. I have this nagging feeling that a hipster is going to jump out of the bushes at me while I'm walking to the train and snub me for watching meaningless network pap. Bread and circuses, man. Bread and circuses.

I have a feeling that the reason I'm watching the Late Show is not the reason most people watch late-night TV. I'm following this because Stephen Colbert is openly inviting the entire viewing audience to do that profiling thing that I try never to actually let people know I'm doing, because it creeps them out. Everybody spent so much time trying to figure out who he'd be when he wasn't the idiot pundit that Colbert decided he was going to do a multi-part (translation: until he gets tired of it) series called "Who Am Me?" because you can't hit maximum funny until you make English grammar cry.

He's done two so far, one in which he takes a Meyers-Briggs personality test, and the other in which he sits a polygraph. They're interesting to watch. I'm guessing that it's only mostly for the audience, and he's actually willing to learn something from it.

My usual tactic of picking apart the non-verbals is complicated here by a few things.


One, unlike a lot of other comedian/hosts, Colbert is also an actor. He does improvisational comedy because he loves it, not because he couldn't hack it as Hamlet. It's not often he's on camera doing something that's not supposed to be hilarious, but Law & Order: Criminal Intent gave him a crack. Most TV acting is kind of stylized, but some actors do 'feel' their characters enough to trigger the various microexpressions that read true-to-life. It would be easier to tell if the script had been written to showcase that ability -- or, you know, at all competently -- but Colbert does seem to be one of them.

Two, Colbert loves screwing with people. Sometimes the way you screw with people most effectively is to tell them in your best deadpan that you are absolutely not screwing with them at all. It's easy for me to tell when he's playing the idiot pundit, but that thing where he fires back at everything with some unholy cross between a Tom Swifty and a mathematician's answer ("Would people describe you more as a procrastinator or too impatient?" -- "Can we get back to this later?") is an interview technique he's been using since before The Daily Show, and he seems to regard it as more of a tactic for humorously annoying people than as a separate character, so aside from the deadpan he doesn't bother trying to change his body language. If he thought it would get a more interesting reaction to look genuinely worried, he'd go for genuinely worried, and probably hit it.

And three, Colbert loves screwing with himself. He's told people quite a number of times, in exactly so many words, that he loves getting himself into vaguely embarrassing situations. If at any point he starts squirming, I can't just assume it's for the lulz -- he might be squirming because he painted himself into a corner on purpose, just to see what happened. And squirming +  incongruous happiness doesn't necessarily mean it's a joke and he's pleased it worked, because he is an openly odd duck on this point, and he might just be pleased he's got himself caught in an interesting corner.

The polygraph piece is entertaining mostly because of his trolling the polygrapher. Given his question about sociopaths, Colbert almost certainly knows how to manipulate the results of the test, although whether he can do it unrehearsed is a different matter. (It's not difficult, in concept. You just have to be very effective at keeping yourself calm. For more information, try William Poundstone's Big Secrets, first in a series of books that have taught me a great many things I'm not supposed to know.) He's pretty wiggly when he sits down, but those chest straps (i.e., the respiration sensors) are not terribly comfortable, and there is a non-zero chance he's basically mugging for the camera, so.

The Meyers-Briggs piece is much more interesting, mainly because he looks very disquieted right at the end, and I have no idea why. It doesn't seem to be in service to a joke, so I'm guessing it's a real reaction to his real results. I have absolutely no idea what he's expecting to hear that makes him so nervous.

It could well be because he doesn't know what the lady is going to come back with. Colbert has a whacking great case of upper-bound Dunning-Kruger going, as is common among hypergenius kids. He knows what he can do, but has no concept of how that compares to other people, and is consistently awful at knowing what other people actually think of him. He had absolutely no idea what he had done at the White House Correspondents Dinner, for example, until he got back to work on Monday and the entire Daily Show staff started gibbering at him.

I've plowed through a thing called Truthiness: The Rise And Further Rise of Stephen Colbert, which was the only biography the library had. It's not long and if you're used to academic biographies it's distinctly mediocre, but one thing it has got going for it is that there are a lot of direct quotes from people who have known Colbert for like a gazillion years. There is an omnipresent background hum from everyone, in two-part harmony, of 'nicest man on Earth' and 'smartest human being I've ever met', which Colbert does not seem to have any comments on, no matter how many times people like Steve Carell and Jon Stewart say it right to his face.

Aside from that, his self-observations and the observations of others generally agree in the broad strokes, but Colbert's interpretation of himself has a distinctly different skew. He's admitted many times, in exactly so many words, that comedy is a way to get attention. He's cheerful and open about it, pointing out that that's what happens when you're the youngest of eleven, but he also uses words like 'addicted' from time to time, and seems not entirely sanguine. (My take is that, if that's the impetus he's working with, he's picked a good way to deal with it -- of all the things you could offer up to masses of strangers in exchange for their attention, laughter is a pretty fair trade.) Other people who have worked with him, especially through Second City and Comedy Central, characterize him as the ultimate supporting player. He has a tremendous stage presence, but even when he is literally the star of the show and playing a character whose suffers from chronic narcissism, he uses the attention he draws to point the audience's focus at something that's not himself. Other players on stage, interview subjects, charity causes, etc.

It's rather like the gravity well slingshot technique NASA uses to get probes into deep space, except it runs on charisma. Probably the Colbert half of that analogy is much better equipped to appreciate it than the robot.

He's not even necessarily very good at knowing what he looks like to others in the literal sense of how they interpret the clothes he's wearing. Listen to Colbert talk, and you would think he has the most boring collection of generic suburbanite clothing ever made. He does interviews and panels in mufti from time to time, and admittedly his dress sense can generally be described as 'somebody's dad'. But, as the mediocre biography noted, teenage Colbert had a tendency to wear things like plaid pants, when they were stylish instead of hilarious, and includes yearbook photos to prove it.

[His Late Show wardrobe, that's got a palette -- the suits range from cool slate to cobalt, his ties tend to blue and purple, and his dress shirts all have starched double-button barrel cuffs on them. He had a penchant for French cuffs as a Daily Show correspondent and on the Report, and specifically pointed this out once to Anderson Cooper, who wears the style quite a bit himself. If you don't do fashion, trust me on this: This is a Look, and someone cares rather a lot about making sure he's meticulously put-together. I can't imagine a man who took a personal interest in designing his own theater walking away with instructions to Wardrobe to just hand him something on opening night, so it's probably Colbert.]

For what it's worth -- which, no matter what that OK Cupid quiz claimed, is not much -- a result of INFP is consistent with the guy you see sitting at the Late Show desk. I have no clue what that lady is banging on about with her 'sometimes people don't see that warmth' business. The main drawback of the INxx types is that iNtuitive people apprehend things by spotting the pattern, and Introverted people need a lot of time away from other humans in order to not go murderously insane. It can be draining. If you are around people, you cannot not see the patterns and you cannot do anything about them, which combination can leave you with a catastrophic amount of other people's distressing shit rumbling around your brain and getting in the way of everything else. The F is for Feeling (weighting opinions and reactions more heavily than facts, contrasted with T for Thinking) and the P is for Perceiving (preferring to keep options open by working with raw information, rather than making all their judgement calls first and working from that, contrasted with J for Judging). Neither of those helps, because then you just get slapped with other people's feels a lot, and it's really hard for you to decide not to care and then make that decision stick.

It's not uncommon for INxx personality types to try to get a handle on all this by forcibly teaching themselves to reason things out, no matter how much they want to sit down and cry instead. It gives you a way to step back, emotionally, if you can figure out how to decouple the logic module from the concrete-world sensors. If you have any interest in formal systems, and you have the bandwidth available to run the Aristotelian subroutine all the time, it tends to make you scary-good at things like philosophy and extemp debate, even (or especially) if the topic of discussion is ridiculous. Doubly so if you also have enough storage capacity to sock away scraps of everything you've ever read about any topic in the universe.

Basically the test just told Colbert that he spends a lot of time watching stuff go down and cramming masses of observation and notes on his own reactions into the internal machinery until he's figured out how it works. Unsorted input goes in, entertainingly wonkified pattern comes out. Which he could probably have gotten from anyone who has ever talked to him for more than like five minutes, but the Meyers-Briggs test made for better TV than chatting with the interns at CBS.

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