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Veteran comedian Stephen Colbert gained mainstream attention in the early 2000s for his satirical Comedy Central bits and provoking observations about establishment figures and conservative pundits, but his tenure on CBS’ “The Late Show” has often strayed into outright political shilling for the Democratic Party.
His latest politically charged humor targeting Republicans led indirectly to his staff being arrested.
On Monday, Colbert addressed the recent arrests of his crew and production members, who were caught and charged with being in an unauthorized area of a U.S. Capitol building last week. Colbert downplayed the arrests as a “very professional” interaction between his staff and “cautious” Capitol Police officers.
Colbert accused conservative journalists covering the story of looking for an excuse to talk about something other than the Jan. 6 hearings and said drawing an equivalence to the rioters storming the Capitol is a “shameful and grotesque insult to the memory of everyone who died.” Among those arrested was Robert Smigel, the puppeteer for “Triumph the Insult Comic Dog,” a character on Colbert’s CBS show. Colbert tagged the incident as “first-degree puppetry.”
Comedian Jimmy Failla told Fox News Digital that the late night show host’s brand of entertainment is “activism masquerading as comedy” and described Colbert as “everything wrong” with late night comedy.
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“The problem with comedic activism is it hurts ACTUAL comedy because jokes are supposed to be trapdoors in that they only work if you don’t see the punchline coming. There is no element of surprise with Colbert, you know the joke is ‘TRUMP’ or ‘Republicans dumb and racist,’” Failla said.
He added that Colbert rose to prominence trashing right-wing voters, right-wing TV hosts, and right-wing politicians and noted that Colbert’s latest “stunt” near the Capitol is an extension of his need to “feed moral and intellectual superiority.”
Jokes and criticism levied at conservative administrations and journalists are not new territory for Colbert, who made his career off such content. In perhaps his most famous overlap with the political world, Colbert was asked to perform as the featured entertainer for the 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner. No one could accuse him of kissing up to power as he roasted President George W. Bush sitting feet away in the voice of the uninformed, right-wing character he popularized on “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”
When profiling Colbert in 2005, the Washington Post wrote Colbert’s “office is adorned with a 1972 Richard Nixon campaign poster” and he “admits to being a Democrat. But, he says, ‘I’m not someone with a particular political ax to grind. I’m a comedian. I love hypocrisy.'”
Since 2015, Colbert has been the host of CBS’ “The Late Show,” succeeding former comic David Letterman. While the political angle of Colbert’s comedy routine remains, the jokes and segments are less introspective and less character-driven. Colbert now frequently hosts famous Democratic faces and sympathetic media voices, offering them friendly interviews with little pushback.
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Comedian and author Tim Young, who once attended the 500th episode of the Colbert Report, said that the comedian was at one point “one of the best political satirists” in America, but unfortunately became too self-important and humorless once Donald Trump came into the political spotlight.
“Even if [Colbert’s] all about pushing politics now, his focus on anger instead of humor, as he used to, will not only not convince people to consider what he’s saying, but turn those already on his side off,” Young told Fox News Digital.
Colbert has hosted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a number of times on the show, offering them sit-down interviews and bit-parts in pre-recorded comedy sketches.
The CBS host and Schumer were lambasted by Twitter users after an August 2021 video emerged of the two dancing in Central Park at a concert. Many considered the video insensitive, considering the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal at the time, as well as a satirist being so chummy with a powerful political figure.
“Life is good for our blue elite while 1000s of Americans are stranded behind enemy lines,” one Twitter user said.
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Former Secretary of State and failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has also sat down with Colbert on several occasions for friendly interviews. In September 2019, Colbert, while speaking to Clinton, criticized Mike Pompeo’s role in the scandal involving former President Trump and the Ukrainian government that led to his first impeachment. He asked her this softball question at one point.
“How many times when you were Secretary of State did you have to say to Barack Obama you can’t extort foreign countries to get dirt on your political enemies?” Colbert asked as Clinton laughed.
Another segment between Colbert and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., saw the two engage in a skit where Colbert’s inability to get a candy bar from a vending machine led to a conversation about socialism and Sanders’ political aspirations.
Podcast giant Joe Rogan, who also found his start in comedy and entertainment, criticized Colbert in April for palling around with Democrats and hypothesized he enjoys being part of the “in-crowd.”
During a discussion with former MMA fighter Jakes Shields, Rogan noted that he was “lucky” to find success, like Colbert, as a comedian, but slammed the late-night host for playing to the powerful.
Both Rogan and Shields railed against the CBS star for his COVID-vaccine song and dance from 2021 in a cover of “Tequila,” when Colbert performed alongside dancers in syringe costumes and vaccine cartoons.
“That was strange,” Rogan said. “I want to be in a meeting when they pitched that… Like, where’s the joke? I’d be like, ‘Where’s the joke? People are gonna watch this?'”
Colbert has also made blatant statements that showed his enthusiasm for Democratic politicians.
In September 2017, Colbert played a clip of former President Obama discussing a Senate bill that would repeal ObamaCare. Obama noted that he would be for the bill as long as a better solution was put into place.
“I’ll take better every time,” Obama said in the clip.
Cutting back to the studio and a close-up shot of Colbert’s face, the CBS host addressed Obama directly. “I miss you,” he said. Colbert also performed an obsequious skit with Obama in 2016 where he pretended to help him polish his resume as he exited the presidency and teed him up to boost Hillary Clinton’s candidacy against Trump.
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Colbert also failed to contain his excitement following the election of President Biden. On the day after Biden’s inauguration, Colbert seemed to relish the moment, saying “Today was the first full day on the job for President Biden—oh, oh I got to say, that, that does feel good on the tongue.”
Fox News’ Lawrence Richard and Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.