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December 2nd, 2009

Colbert

A lovely time... and somehow I didn't come across as a complete idiot. (Who would, next to the Colbert character?)

For those who want the details... I flew down from Syracuse in the afternoon, and a limo took me to the Colbert studios on 54th and 10th... a building with his name in big letters over the door, where his staff works and where the show is taped. They showed me into the Green Room (each guest had his own dressing room) where I dropped off my bag and my suit. The suit, which had been stuffed in the bag, was a mass of wrinkles; a staffer whisked it away.

Since I had chosen to take the earlier flight (in case of delays -- so, there were none) I had the afternoon free. I asked a producer if it would be good to mention my book, The Heavens Proclaim; she agreed, so one stop was to go to the only place in Manhattan that carries the book, the bookshop at St. Paul's Church on 9th and 59th (where I had given a talk last month). I also picked up a few essentials at the new Apple store on the upper west side. Dinner at the Carnegie Deli, which is a favorite of one of the Jesuits here at LeMoyne.

By 6:15 I was back at the studio. Waiting for me was a large shopping bag of goodies, none of which I could possibly take on the plane. My friend Tom from LeMoyne, who was in NYC on business, came to see the show so I had him take charge of the bag. I will do an inventory in a couple of days, when it arrives here.

About 6:30 I was taken into makeup and given a few brief instructions, to go with what had been told to me before. Basically... at a certain point, a stage manager carries a chair onstage, and I follow him and sit down. The camera is focussed on Colbert, who is still doing his routine, but then pulls back to reveal me sitting there. Colbert is the comedian; my task is to answer his questions, straight.

About quarter to seven, Stephen Colbert came by and introduced himself; we chatted for a few minutes, mentioning mutual friends (like my Jesuit colleague and friend, Jim Martin, who has been on the show a few times). As he put it, "I play a totally ignorant fool, a willfully stupid person. I am going to ask you a bunch of inane questions; your job is to put me straight."

"Ah, like a college freshman," I replied.

The next half hour I mostly spent alone in the room, fretting, looking at the food they'd left for me that I didn't have the stomach to touch. Then Colbert came back for one last round of make up and headed off to warm up the audience. I got to watch from the wings. He basically did a question-and-answer, straight (out of character), which got everyone in a friendly mood. (The audience is small, probably about 150 people; I was given only two tickets for guests, and they went to my LeMoyne friend Tom and his guest. Tom is the head of the program that brought me to LeMoyne this term, the Catholic Studies program.) At that point, I went back to my room and watched the taping from a monitor in the dressing room. He did flub one line, which was done over; watching it later, the cut was seamless.

I was warned, I would be in the second act. When the time came, I was called from my dressing room, fixed with a microphone (which I tested, right there), and then taken to the manager with the chair. I remembered to sit down... and you can see how the interview came out. It looks a lot better on TV than it felt when I was doing it; I thought I was off, I was nervous as hell, and the last question was so off the wall that I felt I was floundering. His reaction saved the day, in my opinion; he laughed as if my stupid comment was hilarious, and the audience bought it.

Immediately after it was over, I forgot my instructions ("stay seated! don't get up!") in my rush to get back to my dressing room. The taping, which in theory was supposed to run from 7 to 7:30, was still going on and it was 8:00 pm. And I had a 9:30 flight from LaGuardia. A limo was waiting, and I made the flight with plenty of time to spare. In fact, I got back here to Syracuse in time to watch the show as it aired with the rest of my Jesuit community.

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