Tonight, on Thursday, December 18th, 2014, [The Colbert Report](series:2086233) will at last come to an end after nine important years. Host and faux-journalist Stephen Colbert, the character, will take his final bow as Stephen Colbert, the man, embarks on the next chapter of his career.
And tonight, while most people are already thinking ahead to Christmas, and most of the media still reeling from the Sony hacking nightmare, I will be quietly mourning our loss.
I called him a faux-journalist, except that label doesn't actually work now. After a decade of him and his late-night Comedy Central complement, Jon Stewart, ruling political commentary, they've become something more. Somewhere along the way, they became the de facto political mouthpiece to and for the millennial generation.
Consider this: In 2004 (one year before The Colbert Report launched), Pew Research released the results of a poll that found 21% of young adults ages 18-29 got their news about presidential campaigns from The Daily Show. In 2010, Pew released another study that found of the major news sources, The Colbert Report dominated the coveted 18-49 year-old viewer range with 80% of its viewership falling into that demographic. By comparison, only 67% of the New York Times' readers were in that bracket, and Fox News fared even worse, averaging only 33-35% of its viewership in the 18-49 year-old range.
And that trend only sharpened in 2012, with Pew reporting that 43% of viewers of The Colbert Report were under the age of 30, and Comedy Central and TRU Insights releasing a collaborative study on millennials a few months later that concluded that 50%, fully half of the millennial generation, turned to political satire shows to get their election coverage news.
But the most interesting part of the Comedy Central study was this:
Most say that they get facts and insights from a variety of mainstream news sources; however Millennials are going to political comedies/satires to gain perspective on the issues. When it comes to political comedy/satires, Millennials don’t watch to get informed; they watch because they are informed.
Which, at first read, seems to fly in the face of my statement that The Colbert Report is not just a show, but an important one. But the reason the millennial generation is so informed is because they grew up with The Colbert Report, and it was because of Stephen Colbert's often-searing, always-relatable brand of satirical political commentary that an entire generation cared. That they started paying attention. That they learned.
Part of that was due to the brilliant, biting writing of the show. Part of it was the way Colbert had of taking complex, divisive issues and breaking them down to the everyman level without pulling punches and pandering to the lowest common denominator. Colbert viewed his audience, the American people, as being capable of much, much more than did network news stations and traditional outlets. Colbert never explained his satire, expecting viewers to follow along, and it was because of that respect he offered to the public that the public respected him right back, embraced him as a folk hero and the voice of a generation that was tired of being talked down to by so many other outlets.
Simply put, Stephen Colbert operated from the very start with the premise that audiences deserved more honesty and respect than they were getting from every other news channel. Because at a time in which so many pundits and talking heads simply talked at their viewers, Colbert actually cared, and his genius was that he accomplished it all playing the part of a blowhard who cared for nothing more than his own image. Much of that had to do with the fact that Colbert himself is so well-liked and respected among his peers, a truly good man in a sea of not-so-good ones.
Take, for example, the recent interview he did with President Barack Obama. It was not Fox News with whom he chose to sit, not MSNBC or CNN. No, it was Stephen Colbert. And for the President of the United States, Colbert let his guise slip and his deep and abiding respect for Obama shine through - and vice versa.
It's a shame that that both the man and the character will be stepping out of the arena of political satire. Stephen Colbert, the man, will go on to host the Late Show, and Stephen Colbert, the character, will be folded and put away neatly, maybe to be trotted out every so often for special occasions, but for the most part, locked up and stored away, collecting dust.
I don't know about you, but that image breaks my heart a bit. Because of the character, Colbert could get away with saying things about politicians and corporations that no one else could. He could speak to reality and tell the most brutal of truths in a way no one else could get away with, thanks to his particular brand of satire. There's something that aches deep inside my gut to think of Colbert going from biting political commentary to tossing soft layups to largely out-of-touch celebrities.
And yes, there are many excellent comedians and comediennes out there who could fill the time slot, but there may not be one who could fill his shoes. That was entirely Stephen Colbert's satirical brilliance, and it's a brilliance that won't be matched again - at least not in this lifetime.
So farewell to the faux-journalist who became the most trusted source of news to an entire generation, farewell to the comedic genius who could lampoon the worst acts of our politicians and executives and still do it with a smile on his face, farewell to the show that made us laugh as hard as it made us think. The world may be losing a show, but my generation is losing one of the last remaining media personalities we trust to never lie to us. All things considered, that's a legendary achievement by a man who started out just wanting to make people laugh.
I'll end it with this, possibly the greatest bit of satire of our modern time...