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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

‘I’m a comedian, not a newsman,’

Im a comedian, not a newsman,

Life, liberty and the pursuit of truthiness. That’s what Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert brought to a packed Kennedy School of Government on Friday.

At the Cambridge, Mass., campus of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, the comedian fielded questions from a student moderator, alternating in between giving answers in and out of character.

On his Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report,” Colbert plays a hyper-arrogant, conservative commentator in a not-so-subtle nod to newsmen like Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly.

“Stephen Colbert, thank you for helping us with our mission to make a connection to young people,” said former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and current director of the Institute as an introduction.

Tickets to the conversation were free of charge but had to be obtained through an online lottery. According to student moderator Chris Cocoran, over 2,400 people entered the lottery. Reflecting this high demand, a black market of tickets sprung up on campus, with some tickets selling for upward of $100.

“I feel like I’m in the thunder dome,” Colbert said of the silo-like forum. “Can someone turn the temperature up, I’m retaining some of my water,” he said while sipping from his glass.

Turnout was so high that some students were turned away, and an alternate remote location viewing spot was opened to accommodate the overflow.

Colbert noted that, despite his growing following, his “news” program is not intended to inform. “Please don’t look to me for information,” he said. “Because sometimes I lie.”

“I don’t perceive myself as a newsman at all,” Colbert said when asked about his role in the news business. “I am a comedian from stem to stern. If people learn something from my show, [then] that is incidental to my jokes.”

He explained to the audience, some watching online via a live feed, what goes into making the Colbert Report, his nightly news-comedy program. At 5:15 p.m. each day, the cast runs a rehearsal, after which they have 30 minutes to rewrite the 22-minute-long program before filming, he said.

“It is a challenge,” he said. “It is incumbent on us to be funny and not to get [the news] 100 percent right.”

Colbert also spoke about his relationship with Daily Show host Jon Stewart. The two worked together on the Daily Show, which saw the birth of Colbert’s current character before spawning the spin-off show.

“Jon is more accurate than I am,” he said. “My character is more about how he feels and not what’s real.”

In contrast to Stewart, Colbert’s character satirically takes aim at the ‘news’ from a staunchly right-wing point of view, intended to underscore a surge in conservative American journalism.

“[News today] is a cult of personality,” he said. “One thing liberals aren’t, is unified in their thought. One thing the right does is maintain a unified front, so it is easier to do it passionately from the right.

“You can’t be passionately moderate,” he said. “It is like wearing an extra medium.”

When asked who he would like to have on the program, Colbert said that speaker-elect of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi would be a prime guest.

“I don’t know if you guys remember the 2006 campaign, but she said no one should come on my show and my character was really upset,” he said.

“I almost asked Philip Seymour Hoffman if he would be on and play her.”

One student asked Colbert if he would consider running for President in the 2008 campaign. “That is something I haven’t made up my mind about yet,” he said. “I have to sit down with my family.”

Before ending the discussion and filming a short segment for future use on the show, Colbert presented the forum with a portrait of Bill O’Reilly, who received his masters from the Kennedy School. “I’ll leave it and sign it if you’ll put it up,” he said, holding what looked like oil on canvas. “Certainly one of the pictures of JFK could come down.”

In terms of his own personal political views, Colbert said that he “doesn’t have anything against Republicans, just Republican policies.”