Hey, We got Stephen Colbert back on our neo-interviews. Thanks to Willy Appelman who interns with the Neo-Futurists, we have a glimpse into the neo past of this well known "news" reporter.
Number 7: My Interview With Stephen Colbert or How A Comedy Legend Changed In Front Of Me…GO!
By: Willy Appelman
I sit in a chair across from Stephen Colbert’s desk. He is wearing khaki pants, and a black and white thinly plaid button up shirt. His Manhattan office on floor 2 ½ is sprinkled with Lord of The Rings paraphernalia, art by avid Colbert fans and various types of American flags. Stephen hands me a black pen and a yellow notebook and says, “Shoot”.
As well as being an intern at The Colbert Report, this will be my second time interning with The Neo-Futurist Theater Company. The Neo-Futurists attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes in their popular show Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind.
Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, was cast in the ensemble in the early 1990’s, but never got the chance to perform with The Neo-Futurists. After being a part of The Neo-Futurists Theater Company for one day, Stephen was invited to perform with The Second City Mainstage. His short but comical stay with The Neo-Futurists left an imprint not only on the company but on the performer as well.
Willy: How did the theater scene in Chicago affect your career?
Stephen Colbert: You can get up on stage in Chicago. I was doing improv almost every night around town and sitting in on improv sets at The Second City. Many times my friends and I got a space, picked a play or wrote one ourselves, called the critics and put it up. The availability of stage space was fertile ground. We were constantly producing material, and it took very little to get attention or an audience. Excuse me…
[Stephen steps to the side and unbuttons his black and white thinly plaid shirt. Not wanting to look, I take a deep breath and continue with my next question.]
W: What drew you to wanting to work with The Neo-Futurists?
S.C: I heard about the show through all the buzz. My first show was in early September 1990. I just remember that it was great, exciting and young! I thought that [The Neo-Futurists] were creating something new. I was so excited by every aspect of it. I loved the randomness and the emotional investment of the audience. They want it to work, because there is a game besides the plays, and the game sustains you for when the plays don’t work. It’s about honesty and brevity to me. This was the most exciting thing in Chicago theater- this and Theater Oobleck’s, “The Spy Threw His Voice.” Those two things blew me away.
W: What was your first Neo-Futurist play about?
S.C: I had a history of writing very short stories. I think I once wrote a story about a guy who has a wart on his finger, and he tries to remove it. When he can’t get it off he takes to wearing a ring. It was very much in the style of Barry Yougrau’s, “A Man Jumps Out of an Airplane.”
[Stephen steps back to his desk in suit pants, a crisp white shirt and a black and blue tie.]
W: You left the Neo-Futurists and joined The Second City resident company. How important is The Second City philosophy in your development as a political satirist?
S.C: At Second City I didn’t write one political thing. I had zero interest in politics. Paul [Dinello] and Amy [Sedaris] and I worked together mostly on characters and relationship scenes. We may have referenced Nixon once, but I didn’t want to reference politics, it was all character jokes. Half the joy of doing theater is being with people you admire. Amy Sedaris really got me to lighten up because in the beginning I was pretty theatrical.
W: At Second City there is a scene in which you bring Steve Carell back to your hometown where you are treated as an elderly black woman.
S.C: I really wanted to do a scene where I played Maya Angelou.
[The thought of Stephen playing an elderly black woman brings a smile to both of our faces. Stephen tightens his belt and takes a seat at his desk.]
W: How did you come up with your premises?
S.C: I wanted to do a scene as Maya Angelou, and I wanted to do a scene where I brought Steve Carell to my hometown where, because it was home I acted very differently, so we combined the two. That was one of my favorite scenes I did at Second City because it just happened. It was organic. We improvised the scene once and then scripted it pretty much the way it was.
[Stephen stands up and pushes his chair back. His khaki’s and black and white thinly plaid shirt are hung neatly behind him. He is wearing a grey pin stripe suit, white shirt and a black and blue tie, however I imagine him now in something much more colorful. His suit is a closet full of costumes and he is wearing all of them.]
W: How do you incorporate that into what you do now?
S.C: What I do now is political, but through a character. I am a comedian with a theater background.