During the course of the interview, Colbert revealed some charming quirks: an email friendship with Dick Cavett, a near reverence for J.R.R.Tolkien, and the fact that he decided to pronounce his last name Col-BARE during a conversation with an astronaut on a flight to Chicago as he headed to Northwestern University for the first time.
But the conversation returned again and again to the fact that he plays a character named Stephen Colbert. He said he warns guests that he does his interviews in character, and tells them that the character is an idiot. But that doesn’t always prepare them.
“Any theologian can understand martyrdom, but only the martyr goes into the fire,” Colbert said. “I’m the fire.”
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Colbert got his comedic start at Second City Theatre, a home of improvisation, in Chicago while attending Northwestern University. Here he saw Amy Sedaris on stage and thought she was better than everyone else.
The theatre’s director Del Close had a simple but effective principle on how to do improv called the “yes and.” When you’re onstage you take your cue from the person or people you’re working with and build from there; it’s about accepting what you’re given.
Colbert gave this example. If someone says, “Doctor, things are looking serious,” then you accept that you are a doctor and in return could address the person to indicate that he’s either a patient or a fellow doctor depending on what you say. Operating in this mode, rather than trying to read each other’s minds is what produces lively and hilarious improvisation.
He shared another great piece of advice to two young girls who asked Colbert about starting their own improv troupe. Colbert told the girls to listen—a lot. Listen until you are doing something and feeling something. But until then just listen. His reasoning was this: if you’re doing something then there’s action, it looks like dance, and you’re interesting to look at and if you’re feeling something people will connect with you.
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