This all started when I got into a discussion about, among other things, the way Colbert switches in and out of character during tapings.
"I've never actually been to one," I admitted, "so I'm just going on what I hear in other people's reporTs."
"Why haven't you been?" asked Sarah. "Is it too far?"
"No, I go to college in Massachusetts; but I don't have much money, I don't know the city, and I don't have anyone to go with..."
"I live in Boston, I know New York, and I know a cheap bus line."
One frenzied round of ticket-purchasing and many emails later, we had two Report tickets for Halloween....
The night of October 30, a group of people were watching nip/tuck on the TV my friend and I have reserved for TDS. Apparently it ends at, of all the stupid things, 11:12. Usually I would stay up to watch the 1:00 AM rerun, but tonight I knew I had to get as much sleep as possible. So I never saw the first act of that night's TDS. (Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for TheDailyShow.com.)
When I woke up, I looked quickly at the clock; it said 7:30. I was supposed to catch a 7:44 train. Did some frantic packing.
And then I woke up for real, and it was only a quarter to six.
Had time to pack, relax, and write a short excited post. And then, bag full, I was off!
Regular readers of my journal will know that I currently have mono. Much of the chronicle that follows is colored by my (failed) attempts to get enough sleep.
The dining hall opens at seven; I went in as soon as it opened. "You're here early!" exclaimed the woman at the register. "I have a shuttle to catch," said I, and grabbed two muffins.
"Have a good day!" said she as I left.
"Oh, I will," said I.
The shuttle came at 7:15, and I was at the train station fifteen minutes later. I did some reading of my newly arrived copy of I Am America at the station.
The train went straight into Boston, where I found Sarah right away. She had just gotten off a red-eye flight; she came straight to the station from the airport. Once we met up, we headed for the bus terminal.
There's a lot of complicated travel in this story.
In line for the bus, we started out doing more meta discussion on Stephen (the character). And when I say "discussion", I mean "she asked questions, then let me ramble." I aired a few theories that I've been putting together, based on recent research and I Am America.
By the way, that book? Broke my heart. Oh, it was hilarious, and there were parts that had me cracking up for sixty seconds straight. ("Hi, Mr. Jellineck!") But it tore at my heartstrings just as much. ("I had a happy childhood." Oh, Stephen.)
We continued the conversation onto the bus; then I said, "I'll talk about this one last thing, and then I really do need to try to sleep."
I tried. For four hours. Dozed a lot, but never got any proper sleep.
I opened my eyes at some point to see a Charles Schwab billboard, with this slogan:
Invest in facts, not feelings.
Thought, "Huh. Stephen would not approve."
Not ten seconds later, we passed a Doritos truck.
Was highly amused.
We got sandwiches at the deli down the street, and were the second and third person in line. The first person was in costume, which is how I recognized her (she had made a post on LJ soliciting ideas): she had a fake-pregnant stomach and a photoshopped box of Formula 401. The interns thought she really was pregnant. (It was an excellent costume.)
In line, I discovered that my camera had died. And I mean dead. I turned it on, the lens extended, and then it switched itself off without even enough energy to retract the lens again.
Not long afterwards, I realized that my laptop battery had died too. Since coming home, I've confirmed it: this battery no longer holds a charge at all. What a time to find that out.
It was half past three when I finished taking notes of the journey so far, and attempted to sleep again.
No such luck.
We got in at 6:30.
Everything you've heard about the studio looking smaller in person? It's true. It looks a lot flatter too (all the chunks of set are on one slightly zigzaggy line), and sort of like a toy version of itself. More plasticky. You can see lines on the side of the desk, and that the lights around the base of the set aren't digital text, just little squares cut out of a black cover for a red light.
I managed to note down one of the songs playing ("I Fought The Law And The Law Won", a very rock'n'roll version) before someone asked me to put the notebook away. So I couldn't take notes during the Q&A. (The instant I was out, I started writing things down.)
The warmup comedian was apparently new: a black guy, his intro said he was on The Sopranos, they gave his name but he said "Call me Q" early on, so "Q" is all I remember.
He did a lot of making fun of the people in costumes. There were two Vikings in the audience (separated): a teacher named Pam and a painfully white guy named Ross (who gamely played along, trying to imitate the voice of the lines Q told him to repeat, before admitting that he was from Minnesota). Also, a guy in a cape who said he got it from a "superhero supply depot". Q declared that "the geekiest thing I've ever heard."
Halfway through this he stopped to lay down some rules; then he went back to the jokes.
Mark-the-stage-manager came out and told some more rules: when to clap, when to stay silent (not often), that we were the luckiest members of the Nation tonight because We Got To See Stephen Colbert Live In Person. There was a super top secret sign involved in signaling top-of-the-act applause. (The rest of the time, they just let you laugh and clap when you feel like it. They don't need to tell you it's funny.)
Q came back out for a little bit more; and then, Stephen!
He circled the desk, jumped down from it, did a round of high-fives, did another. I caught him (okay, my hand hit his wrist; at least it's healed) on the second pass.
Stephen in person is different from Stephen on TV, but it's hard to explain how. He seemed shorter, but not short. He looked older, but not old. His voice sounded deeper, but it wasn't deep.
His hair is lighter and duller; from my vantage point it didn't look greying, just overall a greyish brown. All the colors look darker and more intense on TV, including his tie, which was this very moderate dark blue but looked navy when I caught the rerun.
The set looks faker in person. Stephen looks more real.
He did the thing where he raises his hands to get us to cheer, lowers them for us to stop, and then conducts shorter and shorter bursts of cheering. Oh, mob mentality. It was hilarious. And then, "Do any of you have questions, to humanize me before I start saying all these horrible things in-character?"
I didn't get to ask any of my questions, but I paid close attention to the ones that were asked, because there are few things more frustrating than "Oh, Stephen said this hilarious thing during the Q&A — I don't remember what it was, but it was really funny!"
So here they are:
"Why do you take so many vacations?"
He got this adorably shocked/mock-hurt look on his face. "I do 168 shows a year!"
"How did you get a TV show, and when did you know you wanted one?"
"They had half an hour to fill, and they said, 'Hey, you, over there, on the motorcycle...' I don't know why I have a motorcycle in that fantasy. I was thinking of the least likely thing....I've wanted to be a comedian since I was a little kid. Is that an answer? Kinda? Sorta?"
"As a Presidential candidate, would you accept these?" [I couldn't see what she was holding out.]
"...Not from a bear!" [Maybe she was in costume? I couldn't tell.]
"What would be your first executive order?"
"Uh ... be kind to each other?"
And then he told a story.
He didn't teach Sunday school last year, because he was too busy with the show; but he substituted, and he was subbing on the last day before summer vacation — when the kids didn't really want to learn anything. And Pope Benedict had just been elected, so they decided to hold a mini papal election.
He and his daughter made a paper-maché miter, with a glitter cross, and then he "very seriously" locked the door, put the key in his pocket, and told the kids, "Okay, nobody leaves here until we elect a Pope."
They started by making a list of qualities that you should have to be a Pope: 'knows the Bible', 'good person', etcetera. "And nobody said 'must be a man', which made me happy." Then it came time to vote, but one kid said "Hey, I'm gonna vote for me," and another said, "I'm gonna vote for me!", and it looked like trouble.
(Stephen digressed at this point to speculate that all the cardinals probably do this on the first round. "Hey, might as well, who knows, there could be a groundswell...")
Daughter to the rescue: "Dad, make everyone vote twice." That way they would all vote for themselves and someone else. The winner was a kid named Gregory (and his daughter had predicted "It's gonna be Gregory, because he always knows all the answers in class." Stephen's daughter sounds like such a cool kid).
So they brought Gregory up to the front, put the miter on his head and the cloth over his shoulder, and said, "Now that you're the Pope, you need to pick a name; what name are you going to have?"
And the kid goes, "Urban III." ("He really knows his stuff!")
What will be his first papal injunction? Gregory holds up his hands (here Stephen holds up his own for a moment, to demonstrate, and then brings the mic back to his mouth), and says, "Be kind to each other."
At which Stephen went, "All right, that's it, we're done, everybody go home!"
Story over. It's showtime.
Four people crowd around Stephen as he's at the desk. One, with a light brown bob and tortoiseshell glasses, is apparently the on-hand makeup person; she dabs at his upper lip and the sides of his nose.
She comes back during another break, as do writers. The breaks have all blurred together in my head; they had done so even right after the show. So the following is scattered, and not necessarily in order.
When the camera isn't on him (for instance, when the screen is showing an excerpt from a news article), he'll do things like adjust his glasses. It's not a character break, just an awareness of stage presence. One time, the screen was showing a video clip while Stephen talked in voiceover, but he was still pointing angrily at the camera and shaking his fist. Caught up in the moment, I guess.
During one break, he shot WristStrong bracelets into the audience. I got one. That's right, folks, I have a WristStrong bracelet flicked personally
at me in my direction by Stephen Colbert himself. Whee.
The break before the interview, when he pulled out the Doritos, he threw some at the audience. Sarah got one of these. I have no idea what she plans to do with it. (She joked that she might decide to have it bronzed.) You couldn't see this on the camera, but he had orange "cheese" dust on his upper lip when he went over to the interview.
There was a break during which he pulled out this little silver dagger (plastic-looking) out from behind the desk, and played with it as he talked with the writers.
The break after springing the mousetrap, he was laughing at himself as the makeup/writing people ran up. He clearly hadn't meant to do it. (Watching the rerun, though, I noticed that he kept moving the mousetrap into the shot as the camera moved. So I think he was planning to set it off at some point. The specific point, though, was accidental. Good improv.)
He got so earnest, in-character, during the interview; that was adorable.
The characterization seems less intense in person. Maybe it's affected by the way he slips out of it during breaks. Another thing: he's always looking at a camera, directing his anger there, so live audience members aren't in the focus of it. And so much of his character is in the anger.
He screwed up the ending — said "...see if I'm running for President" rather than "...see if I'm on the South Carolina ballot". You could see by his expression during the eagle-cry that it had gone wrong; Allison Silverman ran over, and as she was coming he said "Yes, the young lady in the belt." (She was in this slim tan dress over pants, with a wide belt. It was hot.)
At the end, after he walked off, we had to keep screaming and cheering for a minute or two (and they only used about two seconds of it in the actual credits). Mark kept waving the paper to stir us up. I nearly lost my voice.
Stephen went over to the bookshelf and picked up this big blue-green urn from the bottom shelf, and started spinning it. Then a plate, which looked awfully nice, white and gold; he flipped it like a pancake on his arm. Finally, he took down the famed copy of the Declaration of Independence from the wall and spun it.
"What other talk show host gets to spin a Declaration of Independence? ... Maybe Letterman."
Right before he left, he said, "Thank you for all the love. It's much nicer than talking to the press."
I wish I could tell you that I felt an incredible energy in the room, but I can't.
Remember, at this point I've been up since before sunrise, and am running on five hours of sleep, and, of course, have mono.
It is, however, a testament to the fact that there was incredible energy in the room that I never felt ready to drift off during the taping.
One of the songs during the break was R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It", which, being CTY canon (I was at Carlisle, but I believe it's canon at every site), is guaranteed to keep me up. I sang along.
During one of the breaks, Stephen caught my eye.
It was after the R.E.M. song ended. I had been watching him the whole time, and then all of a sudden I realized he was looking directly back at me.
I flashed him a peace sign. I was blanking out too much to do anything else. I don't even know if I was grinning back. (I think so.)
He did one of those winks he does. You know the type. It's slow and it's sexy and it's accompanied by a slight knowing nod.
And then he was looking away again.
I have no idea how long it lasted. My memory of this is in slow motion.
As I said, I started taking notes the instant I was out (7:52). Sat in the waiting room for a few minutes, furiously scribbling and waiting for the bathroom line to die down.
The first thing I wrote is a label that I saw on a box as I was walking out. Black type, white label, plain brown cardboard box, but the oddness of the text struck me: "6'' Slip-Ft Nipple w/Screw". I wonder what that is. I wonder if he's ever used it on the show (or if he ever will).
As I got all this down, a staffer asked what I was writing. I explained, then had to back up and outline the whole concept of taping reporTs. "But couldn't you just watch the show again?" he asked. I tried to explain that I was writing things like the Q&As. I'm not sure I convinced him of the appeal.
Suggested that they be taped and put online, but the bathroom opened up before I got his response.
Spent some time sitting outside by the exit. Was right in front of the stairs at first, but another staffer shooed me away, so I went and sat a little further down the walk.
A flood of interns came down shortly after the show, then other staff began to trickle out. Recognized Allison leaving.
And I recognized Stephen's back.
But I wasn't sure it was him, and I didn't call out (because who wants to go "Hey, Stephen!...oh, you're not him? I don't care about you, then"), and then he was gone.
Remember the montage for the Emmy writing awards, where a guy in a baseball jacket is the last one to punch Stephen, and then he turns around and it's Stephen himself? That's what I saw. Same jacket. Same build.
He was gone, and then another staffer came by and said "Are you guys waiting for Stephen? Because he just left a few minutes ago. He was in a baseball outfit..."
"She might be lying," Sarah told me when she (the staffer) had left. "They do lie."
"She isn't," said I. "I saw him."
We sat for a few minutes longer so that I could finish writing, then caught a cab to the bus station.
There's more. Read on.
I didn't sleep on the bus ride back either. I can sleep in cars and on trains, but buses are too bumpy. It was almost one AM by the time we got back to Boston, at which point the trains have stopped, so I crashed at Sarah's apartment for the night.
This was after a twenty-hour day. I slept late.
On that red-eye flight I mentioned, Sarah and her wife had just gotten back into town, so the apartment was pretty devoid of food. We went to a nearby Indian place for lunch. The college doesn't serve Indian food, so I haven't had it for months; we both got the buffet, and I pretty much stuffed myself.
We had more long discussion about the shows, which, when we got back to the apartment, developed into a discussion about fanfiction. Now, I have fake-news-fan friends, and I have fanfiction-writing friends, but I don't have anyone with whom I can seriously dish about my "Stephen"-centric fic. We had this glorious long conversation about the story I'm working on now. And I was going over Halloween-centric plot ideas in my head on and off during the entire taping.
At Sarah's request, I drew in her copy of I Am America:
It's way out of focus, I'm afraid; there's a much nicer scan here. The text at the bottom of the picture now says:
fig. 8 STEPHEN COLBERT
&. JEWISH FRIEND
And next to that is my autograph and the date, just on the off chance I ever get so famous that my early work is worth millions.
I took another nap in the afternoon. Woke up for a bus-and-subway hop that lasted an hour and a quarter, and got me to the train station at 6:08. The next train that stopped at my station left at 6:10.
Sarah pushed me forward. I ran. I got on.
The next shuttle back to the college wasn't coming for another two hours. I called a friend.
Arrived back in my room around 8:00, completely exhausted, and went to sleep for eleven hours straight.
It's incredibly frustrating.
Here's the thing. Yes, for that long moment during the break, Stephen was looking right into my eyes. But there was no actual connection. It might as well have been the slow grin he gives in the opening credits to four million viewers a day, for all the personal difference it made.
I didn't get to ask him a question. I didn't catch him on the way out. I never actually talked to him.
I was so close to him — touched his wrist, caught the bracelet, looked into his eyes with him looking back at me rather than a camera — but, oh, how I wish I could have actually talked to the man.
Oh, but I'll go back.
If nothing else, I still need to hold up my wrist, with its new adornment, and inform him that if you rearrange the letters in "DR STEPHEN TYRONE COLBERT DFA", you get "NERD BRACELET: FONDEST TROPHY."