In the fourth episode of ‘The Late Show Podcast‘, Stephen Colbert is accompanied by ‘Late Show’ writers Cullen Crawford and Jen Spyra.
Jen was the senior writer at “The Onion,” but also studied improv in Chicago. She knew she wanted to be a comedian but didn’t know how to go about accomplishing this. Stephen recalled how he had a similar experience when he was in high school. He knew he wanted to enter into comedy, but since he didn’t do stand-up, wasn’t sure which path to take.
Cullen, on the other hand, knew there was a career in comedy, but that was for the “lucky people.” He believed he would have to “plow through life and then die,” because asking for anything more would be selfish. His strict Catholic upbringing led him to this philosophy, including his recollections of praying for people in Purgatory as a child. Jen, however, was raised in a Reformed Jewish family, where it was more about being social and leading up to her Bat Mitzvah. She said her education was more about hanging out and cutting class, but today, wishes she knew more. When Stephen asked her what Torah passage she chose, she explained it was from Leviticus and about lepers. She could not recall any of it, but Stephen remembered the story. He went on to explain that his father was an immunologist and visited leper colonies. “That’s how I got into comedy,” he jests.
When Robert Smigel was producing, “The Dana Carvey Show,” he handed Stephen a stack of 30 “Onion” newspapers and said, “I want you to get this voice into your head.” They had planned on doing a Onion News Network skit and Stephen was going to be the anchor. When they shot the scene, there was a lighting problem and his head was looking “weird” on camera. This is when he first realized one of his ears was a different shape than the other.
Jen and Cullen both lived in Chicago for seven years. At Appalachian State College in North Carolina, Cullen knew he wanted to write but to use his words to “move people.” He had to take play writing classes and ended up liking it so much, he decided to move to Chicago to try play-writing. Jen attended Barnard College in New York, but after freshman year, was introduced to to improv. She ended up attending Improv Olympic (now called IO) in Chicago. The Olympics did not want them using the word “Olympic” in their title, so they were forced to change it to IO. Stephen recalled that his brother Ed, who legally represents the Olympics, was a part of this.
Stephen questioned why so many great comedians have come out of Chicago. He said he had four slots to fill and all of them came out of Chicago and didn’t even know this when reading their work. Cullen said there are two branches that come out of Chicago-people who are prepping to do work in LA and people who aren’t in it for a career but just want to be funny. In NY and LA, you are trying to impress people but in Chicago, you are just trying to make yourself laugh. Stephen said that a mindset he has carried over from ‘The Colbert Report’ to The Late Show’ is, “All I want to do over the next year is do 200 hours of comedy that I wouldn’t mind my friends seeing.”
Stephen ended the discussion with the hope the are both having a good time. He knows he has been “bungeeing” his way into meetings but be promised them this is not his usual involvement and is usually much more hands on with the writing process. He is there every morning during the pitch meetings but the amount of work putting this show together has required twice as much attention as ‘The Colbert Report’. He recalls going to the studio and crawling up through the roof and saying, “maybe we can bring the digital projector through here?” The reply, “why are you here?” Stephen feels he needs to be doing something at all times and wants to make sure everything is working out properly.