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Stephen Colbert Biography


Home > Actors > C > Colbert, Stephen > Biography


Birth Name: Stephen Colbert
Born: 05/13/1964
Birth Place: Charleston, South Carolina, USA


Born on May 13, 1964 and raised in a Roman Catholic family in Charleston, SC and the youngest of 11 children, Colbert knew early on that he wanted to be a performer, thanks in part to his mother's unrealized acting ambitions. In Charleston's exclusive Episcopalian Porter-Gaud School, Colbert gained his first experience as a leper in a production of "The Leper." After sharpening his skills in a few more school plays, he went on to study theater at the ultraconservative and all-male Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Two years of grinding work and little contact with women prompted Colbert to transfer to Northwestern University in Chicago, a complete turnaround from Hampden-Sydney that included coed dorms, openly gay students, and professors crashing on his couch after nights of partying. While at Northwestern, Colbert met Del Close, godfather of improvised comedy in Chicago, and began studying the art with the Improv-Olympic troupe. Coupled with his more formal theater training at school, Colbert was on his way to accomplishing his goal of becoming a serious actor, with a bit of polished humor for backup.

Like many a young person fresh from college, Colbert traveled Europe and returned penniless. He slept on the couch of a friend who happened to be the box office manager at Second City and got work answering the improv institution's phones. Colbert soon realized he could take classes for free, which he did even though he never intended to go into comedy. While at Second City, he was an understudy to Steve Carrell and became friends with Amy Sedaris. By the time he left the group, Colbert had shed his "serious actor" persona and yukked it up with fellow alums Sedaris, Mitch Rouse and Paul Dinello on "Exit 57" (Comedy Central, 1994-1997), a sketch comedy show about dysfunctional families and various bizarre characters in the fictional Quad Cities. Colbert moved on to write and star on "The Dana Carvey Show" (ABC, 1996), the once-popular comedian's sketch series that lasted about a month. One of his more memorable contributions to the show was, along with Carrell, writing and voicing "The Ambiguously Gay Duo," a series of animated shorts that later proved popular on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ).

After the "The Dana Carvey Show" was canceled, Colbert looked for work for a solid year with little success. He failed to land a correspondent gig with "Good Morning America" (NBC, 1975-2004), but appeared in a single episode of "Spin City" (ABC, 1996-2002), before spending a brief time writing for "SNL." The rest of the 1996-97 period was spent worrying about how to feed his family. Then out of the blue, he was offered a job on "The Daily Show," then hosted by Craig Kilborn. Without ever having watched the show, Colbert accepted the position. With the prospect of rent money looming on the horizon, Colbert began what would become his defining gig: playing a pompous, ill-informed correspondent on a fake news program. Under Kilborn, "The Daily Show" had little to do with politics. But when anchor Jon Stewart took over in 1999, the show steered full boar towards political satire. Colbert had never thought much about his own political stance or doing political comedy, but to his surprise, he soon discovered that he indeed had strong (and liberal) opinions on many issues.

Over the next six years, Colbert and company lacerated politicians, pundits and political wonks of all stripes. From the election debacle in 2000 through the subsequent debacle in 2004, "The Daily Show" became a safe haven from the inanity of politics and the 24-hour spin cycle that passed for TV news. But while "The Daily Show" considered itself a comedy show first, many who watched felt that the truth was more faithfully represented than on so-called real news shows. Meanwhile, Colbert honed his cocksure and idiotic correspondent character, adding considerable gravitas and diction to reports while simultaneously looking the fool. Such memorable moments included roving the floor at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (he badgered an avid listener of John Kerry's speech who turned out to be one of the speechwriters); filling in for an interview with Al Sharpton as Al Sharpton; and hosting a semi-weekly segment, "This Week in God," where Colbert walked the tightrope between comedy and religion.

During his stint on "The Daily Show," Colbert found time for other projects, as well. He made his feature debut as Happy Successful Guy in the independent romantic comedy, "Let it Snow" (1999). Also that year, Colbert and his Second City pals created "Strangers With Candy" (Comedy Central, 1999-2001), starring Amy Sedaris as a 46-year-old runaway/ex-con/former drug addict and alcoholic who returns home and attends high school as a freshman, drawing the wrong conclusions from her weekly crises. After appearing in episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ) and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC, 2001-2011), he lent his distinguished voice to various characters on "Crank Yankers" (Comedy Central, 2001- ), "The Venture Brothers" (Cartoon Network, 2002- ) and "American Dad!" (Fox, 2004- ). Meanwhile, "The Daily Show" became a cultural hit and critical success, earning untold Emmy Awards for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing. The show also won a 2004 Peabody Award for journalism - a first for a fake news show.

By 2005, Colbert felt that it was time to move on. He left "The Daily Show" in October and took his patented correspondent persona with him to start his own show, "The Colbert Report" (Comedy Central, 2005- ). Part Bill O'Reilly, part Lou Dobbs, with a smidgeon of Anderson Cooper, Colbert's cocky and clueless news anchor followed "The Daily Show" and became an immediate hit. Segments such as "Better Know a District," where he set out to interview 434 congressional representatives (disgraced Republican Duke Cunningham was off the list), and "The Word," where Colbert pontificated on topics a la Bill O'Reilly while onscreen graphics comically undercut his argument, became overnight staples. The first installment of "The Word" coined the word "truthiness," something he described as a devotion to information he wished were true, no matter the facts. Colbert even engaged in a mock-persecution of the Associated Press - again stealing a page from O'Reilly and his attacks on The New York Times - accusing the wire service of not giving him credit for coining the word and calling them the biggest threat facing America.

Colbert continued with other projects, including a feature version of "Strangers with Candy" (2005) which was purchased by Warner Independent Pictures at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. In 2006, Colbert created waves with his performance at the annual White House Correspondent's dinner. Standing mere feet away from President George W. Bush, he gave a searing 16-minute speech that punctured holes in the unpopular president, his administration's failed policies, and the media's lazy reporting. With an audience populated with media members and Washington politicos, Colbert's sharply pointed satire - delivered in his well intentioned, poorly informed idiot persona - fell flat. In the ensuing days, newspapers largely panned the performance and cable shoutfests debated at length about his apparently unfunny routine. The Internet, however, told a different story; Colbert became a sensation when the clip garnered 2.7 million views on YouTube overnight in only two days. After the Correspondent's dinner, Colbert's popularity only grew, particularly among young adults and Gen-Xers. Then in a surprising move, both Colbert and his "idol" Bill O'Reilly appeared on each other's programs in January 2007. Both took good-natured jabs at each other, though Colbert got the better of "Papa Bear" when he revealed the next day on "The Report" that he stole the microwave from O'Reilly's green room. Meanwhile, his show became a critical and ratings hit, earning kudos from the likes of CNN, The Washington Post and NPR. "The Colbert Report" also earned several Emmy award nominations. In October 2007, he released his first book, I Am America (And So Can You!), a satirical autobiography about his life, co-written with several members of Colbert's writing staff.

To coincide with the release of his book, Colbert announced on his show that he was running for President of the United States in 2008 - but only in his home state of South Carolina. At first, he declared that he would run as both a Republican and a Democrat, but later recanted on the former after learning he needed to pony up a $35,000 entrance fee to declare his Republican stripes. Though only costing $2,500 to file as a Democrat, Colbert was denied a spot on the ballot by the South Carolina Democratic Party executive council. He received mixed reactions from his presidential opponents and Washington pundits, but he continued to run unabated, even securing Doritos as a campaign sponsor. Though many were unsure just how serious his intentions were, Colbert was nonetheless subject to federal election laws, a point that became apparent when he was forced to change the wording of a Doritos graphic after receiving legal advice. Colbert was committed to running only in South Carolina, though many across the nation intended to write Colbert on their ballots as a joke.

Meanwhile, after voicing the president for the 3-D animated "Monsters vs. Aliens" (2009), Colbert received a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! As for "The Colbert Report," the show maintained its high-level of political satire while earning several award nominations, including Emmys in 2009 and 2010. He made further news in 2010 when he and Stewart staged a Washington, D.C. rally called the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear," which mocked conservative host Glen Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally earlier in the year. Inserting actual politics into his show, he managed to start his own Colbert Super PAC following changes in the rules as to how political action committees could raise money for campaigns. In raising over $1 million, Colbert was able to use his humor in conjunction with his real-life experience in pointing out the absurdities in campaign financing laws. In 2012, he again placed himself on the presidential ballot in South Carolina, but wound up urging viewers to vote for Herman Cain after he withdrew. The following year, however, his sister Elizabeth Colbert Busch ran a real campaign for Congress for South Carolina's 1st District in a special election in 2013. Busch won the Democratic primary and was set to face Mark "Appalachian Trail" Sanford, South Carolina's former governor who was forced to resign following a 2009 extramarital affair. Colbert was instrumental in raising awareness for his sister's campaign via his show and by campaigning with her.

After growing rumors that Colbert was planning on ending "The Colbert Report" when his contract expired in 2014, having grown tired of the character, he was immediately announced as the front runner to replace David Letterman as host of "The Late Show" (CBS 1993- ) when the veteran late night host announced his retirement in April 2014. On April 10, 2014, Colbert was officially named as Letterman's replacement beginning in 2015.




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