This podcast interview of Stephen Colbert heartens me for a number of reasons:
1.) I unsurprisingly had no prior awareness of the song of the summer until they immortalized it as the most joyous, last-minute musical montage of TV history. Thus I will always hold it dear in my head, no matter its earworm status or the loathing with which much of the populous, already well aware-of and fed up with the song before I’d even heard of it, regards it. I’ll associate it with what are admittedly suppositions on my part: of eagerness and good-natured agreement on the parts of so many people: Bryan Cranston, Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges, Hugh Laurie…Henry Kissinger. (?!) Never having been a part of a production, I can pave over the unvoiced reality with the feel-good generosity I love to imagine exists between these people, and it makes me feel better about the world.
2.) Stephen Colbert makes me feel better about the world, and that the aforementioned feel-good generosity might in fact exist in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect it. I’ve never aligned with him religiously, and have even grown uncomfortable sometimes in places when an opinion seemingly-informed by that religious viewpoint manifests itself without tongue firmly planted in cheek. (See: the May 6th 2010 show’s reference to Sex and the City 2: “Abu Dhabi?! You should remember: You are American materialistic sluts! You should be tramping your way down the streets of Manhattan!” At which point my husband and I turned to each other with twin expressions of “um, what?”) But his instant circumspection and care, when Paul Mecurio brings up the subject of his Catholicism, made me grin, not unkindly. I am, again, reading it in the way that is best for me, but it would seem that he isn’t, in that moment and in the questions that follow, just being protective of himself or his image. There is something he cares about there, very much, and if it happens to be religion in his case and not in mine, fine–but I understand very well the careful barriers we build around those things, letting in the people we love, sometimes, or the people who have to know in that moment, other times, but striving always to keep a kernel of it to ourselves, not because it is fragile but because there is something we wish to remain inviolate: “that is a part of me” he states, not imperiously or apologetically but as tender fact. I can appreciate that, and I continue to appreciate the people I see around me protecting that part of themselves against the cynicism and scorn that wait always to erode it. I used to try to let people know that I understood that urge in them, but when it became apparent that even a mention of it, from me, someone outside the circle of that belief, was viewed as a kind of blundering attack, I stopped saying anything, and just watched them instead.
3.) When he describes “dialing the character up or down as needed,” meaning his on-screen persona of the same name, I was reminded of the version of me I present at dinner parties and get-togethers with people I don’t really know all that well. This is hardly a revelation, because everyone does it and knows they do it, but “dialing up or down” seems a very apt way of putting it–the characters we make of ourselves, for others. Hearing this phrase I was put in mind of the endearingly naive version of me I used to play when little, deliberately confusing homonyms and words that almost sounded like homonyms to the delight and amusement of my elders, until their pleasure waned and they became exasperated with my apparent cluelessness. Then as a teenager, dialing up–way up, much too far–my penchant for hearty self-denigrating laughter and criticism, which I could see quite plainly would extinguish any delusions of grandeur people thought I might have, but which had the simultaneous and somewhat detrimental effect of making me feel like absolute shit. (“Har har, I know, I’ll be lucky if I get raped, right? What with me being so fat and pasty, that’s probably the only way I’ll end up with any kids!” <– actual thing I said at fifteen.) And the version of me I play now, whose bombast and inflated die-hard positions put me most in mind of the ways Colbert’s stage persona changes on demand. This is a version of me that works better with strangers than with loved ones, because it’s easier to have a handful of strident, outspoken causes you believe in than an endless multitude of convictions that come with caveats and grey areas. But it takes trust and empathy to expose one’s gray areas, and you can’t count on that with people you don’t know so well. Besides, gray areas bore people. They want the vibrancy and the point-and-laugh-at-it blindness of the fervent believer–in democracy, in veganism, in biking-to-work. It doesn’t matter what. So I dial up that bombast, that entertainingly willful ignorance or stubbornness, and resign myself to the occasional accusations that I’ve become the character, see only in black and white, and am really stupid about a whole lot of things. I am really stupid about a whole lot of things, but nine times out of ten it’s not the things people are pegging me for. Because if I really told you what I thought about this or that, it would take all day, and at the end of it you still wouldn’t give more of a shit than you do now.
So anyway, it’s a good interview, if you want to give it a listen.