The final episode of The Colbert Report aired last night, and though it wasn’t the show’s finest episode ever, it was a fond, surprisingly moving farewell to one of TV’s most ridiculous — and memorable — characters.
He was last seen gliding through the clouds in the backseat of Santa’s sleigh beside Alex Trebek (don’t ask).
Before that, after offing the Grim Reaper and declaring himself immortal (don’t ask), he led a glorious singalong in the studio with a room of luminaries ranging from “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, Andy Cohen and Big Bird to George Lucas, Arianna Huffington and Henry Kissinger.
With Randy Newman at the piano, the gathered sang the poignant pop standard whose lyrics go, “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.”
Actually, Colbert fans know they’ll be meeting him again in a few months, this time playing himself as the new host of CBS’ “Late Show” taking over for David Letterman, who exits next May.
But none of that mattered during Thursday’s bittersweet finale.
At the top of the show, Colbert greeted his followers and set straight any newcomers: “If this is your first time tuning into ‘The Colbert Report,’ I have some terrible news. …”
He announced as “a little happy news” for Colbert Nation that a raffle for his flashy anchor desk and his adjoining fireplace set had raised $313,420 for charity.
In discussing his legacy — something this delightfully self-absorbed host was always happy to do — Colbert fired back against the “thinkerati” who, he charged, were questioning his impact.
“But I’m not here to brag about how I changed the world,” he went on. “I did something much harder: I ‘samed’ the world. Does that sound stupid? Well, they said I sounded stupid back in 2005. So THAT’S the same!”
“The Colbert Report” (both t’s were always silent) premiered in October 2005 as a spoof of the show hosted by Fox News Channel personality Bill O’Reilly. But the Colbert character developed into a shrewdly satirical observer, preaching the opposite of what real-life Stephen Colbert meant to put across. For this nightly display of Opposite Day, Colbert won a devoted audience of so-called “heroes,” plus critical acclaim and two Peabody Awards, which noted that “what started as a parody of punditry is now its own political platform.”
An actor, comedian and improv virtuoso, Colbert had created his Stephen Colbert alter ego in 1997 as a “senior correspondent” for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
Then he graduated to a show of his own, where he not only exposed the failings and fumblings of government, society and the media, but he also got directly involved in these issues.
He formed a Super PAC, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” which solicited donations as a demonstration of how money distorts the electoral process.
In 2007, he announced he would be running for president — but only in his native state, South Carolina, whose Democratic Party voted to keep his name off the ballot. With Stewart, he in 2010 staged a “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” as a live TV extravaganza that drew tens of thousands to Washington’s National Mall.
Quite a legacy. Was it enough?
“If all we achieved over the last nine years was to come into your home each night and help you make a difficult day a little bit better,” said Colbert, for a moment almost getting sentimental — “man, what a waste!”
As usual, he was preaching the opposite of truth.