So I arrived at the usual spot on 54th Street without knowing quite what to expect (and not for the first time). The clue – we were told to memorize the tune and lyrics of “We’ll Meet Again” – didn’t require much prep on my part. The song is close to a national anthem in England – which may be why Samantha Power and I seemed to be the only ones really belting it. So I arrived a little lubricated and was assigned to “Group 4” in an office on the second floor. Meandering up the stairs, I stumbled in and realized, the way you do, that since all my fellow Group 4’s were sitting in a row and not saying much, that I was going to have to shake hands with every single one of them, and introduce myself. Like some strange dream set in someone else’s office, Charlie Rose, Katie Couric, Mark Cuban, Peter Frampton, and Jeff Bridges were the openers. Eventually I said hi to the dude sitting on the desk nearby – Michael Stipe. Then, just like at Studio 54, Kissinger, the tiny, reptilian war criminal, showed up, merging into the cocktail hour like a lizard on a sun-drenched rock. Next door, I could see the “face” of Barry Manilow. Around the corner, I saw a woman get out of a Big Bird costume. And what do you say exactly when Terry Gross just wanders up and says hi? That you’re busy hiding from Paul Krugman?
I had one obvious option – the beautiful and long-limbed ballet dancer, David Hallberg. Maybe I could talk to him. Even though an injury had robbed us all of the sight of him in tights, at least I could talk with him. And so we made jokes most of the night, and bonded in the face of so much celebrity wattage. It is, in case you’re wondering, impossible to interact with any of these people in any natural way. What on earth am I going to say to Mark Cuban, for Pete’s sake? Meeting the super-famous, in a context where you have nothing in common but a very gifted booker, is at first bewildering and then really boring. A reader writes:
Andrew, you were on the spot: did David Hallberg ever take his hands off Katie Couric? I’m sure she was cool with it, but I’m curious. :)
My impression was that Couric couldn’t take her hands of Hallberg. But I got the last dance.
And, of course, I choked up a little in the rehearsal. I fell in love with Colbert the first night of the show. Even blogged it:
Pure Genius: Last night’s Colbert Report, of course. O’Reilly fileted. My only worry is: how can he keep it up?
But he did, of course, and then some. Which is worth noting in and of itself. This was an unprecedentedly sustained act of character improvisation. I wasn’t crazy to doubt he would pull it off. I just didn’t realize how deeply brilliant and able he is. No one interviewed a politician as freshly as he did, or took down a pretentious author with more finesse. His writers were and are the best on television – deeply read, darkly funny. His professionalism was staggering. Nothing was ever phoned in – night after night. I saw him meticulously prepare performances, tweaking props, finessing green screens, hitting every note (he re-taped his final song before we left the studio that night), and almost never flubbing a line – while making sure to compliment you if you got yours right.
I was a part of Colbert nation in two ways: his most frequent guest but also a pathological viewer. The show lasted almost as long as I’ve been together with Aaron, and it became part of our married life. We’d watch it without fail – and it became an act of adultery for either of us to watch it without the other. Even last week, I waited to get home to watch the last four shows (Aaron gets a pass for shows I’m actually on). I joked to Stephen that we would soon see if my marriage could survive the end of his show. I guess there’s always South Park.
I also have to say Colbert remains a Catholic role model for me – a deeply humane and kind man, a generous soul, someone so totally at peace with this modern cacophony, and yet also committed to a way of life that could not be more opposed to it. For so many who regard our faith as a cramped anachronism, he was a real beacon of what a modern Catholic can be: open, funny, decent, humble. He helped keep my faith alive in a dark decade. And made me laugh at the same time. Of whom else on television could I say such a thing?