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Thursday, October 2, 2014

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Derek Wolfe: Beginnings are hard, endings are harder

By Derek Wolfe, Columnist
Published April 15, 2014

I’ve been a fan of Stephen Colbert since the eighth grade. While I probably didn’t understand the meaning of half of his jokes at the time, it was something about his comedic style and satirical abilities that I admired. Honestly, it’s surprising I even knew what satire was back then — shout-out to my teachers.

His character of a right-winged idiot is pure genius. And he’s managed to perfect the act over the course of the decade. He made a mockery of former President George W. Bush in 2006 as the host of the White House Correspondents Dinner. He co-led the Rally to Restore Fear and/or Sanity with Jon Stewart in 2010 and decided to “form an exploratory committee to lay the groundwork for (a) possible candidacy” for the President of the United States of America of South Carolina in 2012. And if that wasn’t enough, he even created his own Super PAC, which raised more than $1 million.

So you can imagine the disappointment Colbert fans had upon hearing his decision to take over the Late Show on CBS for David Letterman. We’re going to lose all of this. 30 minutes of eye-opening, accurate analysis of the world cleanly wrapped in satire four nights a week. Gone. The last months of 2014 are all we have left to enjoy the last episodes of the “Report” — pronounced “re-pore.”

But have no fear, my “Most Likely to Be” in my eighth grade yearbook was “Stephen Colbert’s successor,” so Comedy Central, I’ll be sending in my résumé. I may also have been the one who created that future occupation for myself. But don’t worry about that.

Jokes aside, Colbert’s decision to leave his nest at Comedy Central to be Letterman’s successor brings up interesting questions, and quite frankly, a rather polarizing debate: Why ruin a good thing? Colbert already has a very dedicated audience, so what is he gaining by changing shows? And most importantly, if he’s not in character, is he even that funny? The times we’ve seen the real Stephen are few and far between — however, I personally attest he will be just as laugh-inducing.

As far as I’m concerned, there are two things to consider. First, while of course I cannot speak for Colbert, I posit that he is in search of a new challenge. Since it only took a week from Letterman’s retirement announcement to Colbert’s hiring, I think it’s safe to assume that very little negotiations, if any, took place between Colbert and Comedy Central. He wanted a change. And sure, we can be upset about it, but we have to admit we’re being selfish. We like the status quo. However, we should also embrace someone essentially risking his or her career to exercise a different skill set. And if that’s not an American ideal, even if it may be partly money-motivated, I don’t know what is. Because we all know that if Colbert falters even slightly, fans and critics will not hesitate to turn on him.

What’s also important to realize is that it’s never a good thing when something continues for longer than it should, in all cases. I don’t necessarily believe the novelty of Colbert’s character has worn off. In fact, it’s finally gotten to the point where I can totally appreciate it. However, it is far better to end a great thing a little early than witness the pain-staking process of jumping the shark and surviving off past success. That could be far worse for Colbert than flopping on “The Late Show.”

And there are plenty examples of this. The ending of “The Wire” was perfect. It was 60 episodes of incredible television and one more could have jeopardized its success. On the other hand, the not funny “Saturday Night Live” is still on TV — well past its glory days.

Ultimately, Colbert’s ordeal is a matter of risk-taking and knowing when to say goodbye. Neither is easy. Both are necessary. And someone is probably going to be upset about it. But that doesn’t mean don’t go through with it.

My dad has reminded me many times of the old proverb, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

And while that’s probably a bit emotional for a TV show I often fall asleep in the middle of, I think you get the point.

Derek Wolfe can be reached at dewolfe@umich.edu.


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