“This book isn’t for people that are good at reading. It’s for real Americans.”
So said Stephen Colbert to Jon Stewart in an episode of “The Daily Show” shortly before the release of Colbert’s new book “I Am America (And So Can You!).” And not surprisingly, he said it best.
No, the book isn’t simplistic drivel like the hundreds of celebrity “autobiographies” out there (everyone from Lance Bass to Jermaine Dupri has one), those miracles of grammar held together by the unlikeliest of preposition-subject combinations. I simply mean the book is a very accessible read for fans and newcomers alike. It gets out the Colbert’s message while managing to maintain a surprising amount of punch, given that we only know Colbert from his TV show and have only our imagination as a guide as to how Colbert would deliver these absurd musings.
Since starting out as a correspondent on “The Daily Show” in 1997, Colbert has become something of a pop-culture legend. Conveniently liberal college kids aside, Colbert has made his mark among wider audiences because of his disarming personality, and, dare I say, charm. He’s a screaming lunatic, but in a world where screaming lunatics win serious ratings and have devoted followings (Bill O’Reilly, “Papa Bear,” as Colbert calls him), the chord he strikes is of the perfect tenor for serious satirical skewings. While Stewart himself can be called out as a boilerplate liberal hack, it’s tougher to delegitimize Colbert, because he’s essentially doing exactly what some of the most popular talking heads today do.
Colbert’s persona is nearly peerless, but the same cannot be said of his show, which has its fair share of bad jokes, sequences, shows or even weeks. The book, written by Colbert and his team of writers, is by no means a tour-de-force – it stalls as often as Colbert’s jokes fall flat on his show. Especially near the beginning of the book, where we are provided with a pseudo-biography and life story, the book is slow and bogged down by the same sophomoric one-liners that are found on “The Word,” a popular nightly segment of “The Colbert Report.”
Not surprisingly, Colbert’s finest commentary is found in later chapters addressing race, class, immigration, science and, of course, the media. Lines like “Reality has a liberal bias” and “America has no shortage of metaphorical opportunities for the poor” are the back-handedly incisive Colbert at his best. Like he did in his finest hour – the underappreciated performance he put on at the White House Correspondents Dinner in April 2006 – Colbert is expertly beguiling. At his best, the man can make you agree with concepts you’ve despised since birth. It’s all in the inflection, phrasing and righteous absurdity that Colbert does so well.
Having released this book last week and officially announced his candidacy for president of the United States last Tuesday night (he’ll run only in South Carolina, as both a Republican and a Democrat), Colbert is ready to take his infectious, obnoxious persona to the next level. The book has its dry spots, but it’s still a fantastic primer on who Colbert is, what he stands for and why we should be suspicious of anyone who seriously argues in this way.
People like Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann may be vying to take back the cable airwaves from the lunacy of Fox News, but they’re much too earnest and righteous ever to get through to those infected with the divisive, bitter political rhetoric of the past several years. Colbert is different. He spoke to the president and his closest friends and advisors in person and lampooned them more thoroughly to their faces than anyone has managed behind their backs. He’s impossible to ignore, and this book is a testament to his genius.
I Am America (And So Can You!)
By Steven Colbert