For months the much vaunted finale to The Colbert Report has been talked up and dreaded, but yesterday it finally arrived. In a star-studded farewell with inside jokes and a touching message from the man himself, a nine-year old institution came to its end. The purveyor of truthiness signed off in the only way he could have, with a tribute all about himself, Stephen Colbert. But none of this may be what people think as a shocking twist ending was revealed at the end of the episode.
Wearing a snazzy three-piece suit and smiling his mega-watt smile, Colbert started off the show with his trademark humor, taking on the news with some much needed laughter. An American plumber’s truck ended up in Syria as part of the war there and the poor plumber who sold it has no idea how it got there. People have been calling him up to protest and threaten, prompting him to change his out-going message. Apparently he cannot help anyone who wants to be a terrorist, but he will meet them halfway on a pipe bomb. Well, the show’s host used this story as a cautionary tale as he revealed that the auction of parts of the set had raised over $300,000 for the Yellow Ribbon Fund. He asked only that his desk not end up in Syria as an anti-air craft weapon.
Keeping the focus firmly where it needed to be (on himself), Colbert then recapped his nine years as America’s purveyor of truthiness and essentially nothing has changed. Nine years ago people called him stupid and they still do. Also in 2005 America was heading into Iraq and a Bush was running for president. When he promised the nation a revolution, what he did not say was that he really just meant a 360 degree turn right back to where they started. Yes, the satirical host was very proud, not that he had changed the world, but that he had “samed” the world.
Then came the moment that people had not realized they were waiting for – the moment when he started to sing. Together with countless numbers of his star-powered friends, he sang a farewell to the tune of “We’ll Meet Again.” The list of attendees is more impressive than most Oscar party guest lists (which Colbert has been on a few times, no doubt). Jon Stewart was there standing arm-in-arm with his former employee and around him gathered others: Willy Nelson, Bryan Cranston, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Big Bird, Katie Couric, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, James Franco, Cookie Monster, Patrick Stewart, Steven Spielberg, troops on a video link from Afghanistan, J.J. Abrams, Bill Clinton tweeting, an astronaut running on the treadmill Colbert helped get to the International Space Station, Smaug the Dragon (for the fans of Middle Earth), and others of equal fame and sometimes infamy. All these people came out to say goodbye to a character they knew and loved and so, in a way, perhaps they stood in for all the viewers watching from home.
But the show was not quite over. Colbert joined such perennial figures as Abraham Lincoln, Santa Clause and Alex Trebek as one of the symbolic characters America looks to in times of crisis. As Trebek noted, they are always there when America needs them most. Together they rode off in Santa’s sleigh and Colbert broke character slightly to say his thank yous. Then, in a poignant moment, he threw it back to Jon Stewart who was his boss for years before. In a stunning twist, the last nine years were nothing more than an extended Daily Show report. Honestly, the audience should have known it would all come down to this.
For nine years, Stephen Colbert has been a modern Walter Cronkite in an age where people not only need someone they can trust on the screen, but someone who can lighten the mood that today’s terrible news can bring. Colbert did that for many people, especially young people who may not have had a reason to pay attention to the news before. The character of Stephen Colbert was a comforting one because everyone knew he did not really mean it. But now that era has ended and it has ended in style. A self-centered celebration of his own achievements was really the only way Colbert could have signed off for the last time and still be true to the character and to what people expect of the character. That was what America needed and that is what makes him immortal.
Review By Lydia Bradbury