The real Stephen Colbert? Winnipeg comedy writer on transition to ‘Late Show’
WATCH: What Stephen Colbert once said about David Letterman’s replacement, and how fellow late night hosts Jon Stewart and Jimmy Fallon reacted to Colbert’s new ‘Late Show’ gig. Alison Harmelin reports.
TORONTO – Winnipegger Sharilyn Johnson hasn’t missed a single episode of The Colbert Report, has traveled to 12 tapings in New York and even trained under executive producer Tom Purcell in how to write in the style of the show.
“From a writing perspective, especially…I find the character fascinating,” said Johnson. “I blog extensively about it and have gone to a lot of events that he’s done—like Q&As and panel discussions and things like that.
“I’m a Colbert geek.”
When news broke Thursday that Colbert would replace David Letterman on the Late Show in 2015, many fans wondered if it would be the ‘real’ Colbert or the offensive right-wing persona he plays on his own show.
“I won’t be doing the new show in character, so we’ll all get to find out how much of him was me. I’m looking forward to it,” Colbert said in a statement released by his publicist Thursday.
It’s a choice that Johnson can understand from her experience in comedy writing.
“I know what it takes to put that show together every day, and they barely make it by the skin of their teeth doing it four times a week [for] half an hour,” she said. “I can’t imagine he’d be able to sustain that five nights a week for an hour.”
Johnson said one of the things she learned from Purcell was that even a segment like ‘The Word’ is a very difficult thing to write, adding they “go through a lot of them before they even get one that’s ready to air.”
“The way [Colbert] has described it is The Daily Show deconstructs the news, but his show deconstructs the news and then reconstructs it from his character’s perspective. So that’s a major thing to get done.”
She also thinks she may have picked up on hints from Colbert in recent interviews that he’s ready to move on from the character fans know so well.
“In earlier interviews at the beginning of the show’s run, people would ask him: ‘How long can you sustain this for? It’s a very complicated thing that you do.’ And he was always very enthusiastic, saying: ‘The show asks of me everything I know how to do, it’s my own creation.’ He showed no signs that he’d ever want to quit,” said Johnson. “In more recent interviews, he’s said: ‘Someday I’ll want to stop doing the character,’ which is something we hadn’t really heard from him before.”
But if there’s one thing Johnson doesn’t think Colbert will leave behind, it’s his staff.
CBS said in a release that the producers and location for the Colbert-hosted show will be determined at a later date, but Johnson says Colbert’s hiring choices and loyal staff have earned him a unique reputation in the business.
“He has a very talented group of people surrounding him—a lot of that staff has been there since the start of the show, which is almost unheard of for a show like that,” she said. “He’s considered one of the best bosses in the business, so they’ll absolutely want to follow him there, and I think he will want to have all of them.”
CBS said Colbert’s first night as host of the Late Show will be announced after Letterman “determines a timetable for his final broadcasts in 2015.” Johnson has already blogged about three ways the comedian could end The Colbert Report.
Aside from being a journalist and self-proclaimed Colbert geek, Johnson will be performing her autobiographical solo show Fake News Fangirl at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival July 16-27. The show has already played at four other Canadian festivals, and she said it’s mostly about Colbert’s late night counterpart Jon Stewart, touching on Purcell’s writing class and the equivalent class she took for The Daily Show.
“There’s a lot of adventures in fandom and how my journalism life collides with fan life—interviewing people from the shows and things like that,” she said. “Glad to be doing it in my home town to cap it off.”
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