With or without Pope Francis on set, late-night comedian Stephen Colbert is upending what it means to be living and working your profession and your faith. Nothing of the interior self seems off limits for someone whose job it is to make us laugh.
The CBS Late Night host, a Catholic superstar, has heralded the Pope’s visit to America with an all-Catholic panel of guests and the ability to harpoon a church he loves. His faith credentials are impressive; personal background of loss and grief, participation in Mass, thorough grasp of Anselm’s ontological argument, and (as Time Magazine noted in their cover story on Mr. Colbert) the ability to explain hell and then grin and yell, “I teachSunday School, motherfucker” to his critics.
“Just because you got the dog collar on doesn’t mean you know more about the Catholic Church than I do,” Mr. Colbert said recently to Canada’s Father Tom Rosica. Father Rosica, a media attaché for Pope Francis, is busy this week as a commentator at ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox. Father Rosica’s other job is CEO of Canada’s Catholic TV network, Salt and Light. Earlier this month, Mr. Colbert and Father Rosica sat down for a faith interview, which, at last check, rivalled online views of our own federal election leaders’ debate.
What’s not funny, according to Mr. Colbert, is being flippant about God. In the kind of insider talk that happens between a priest and a follower of Jesus, Mr. Colbert explains he actually accepts that he should live as a “fool for Christ,” and that he thinks the Devil also has a use for comedy.
“The thing that produces humour, or the thing that produces laughter that will help the Devil, is flippancy,” said Mr. Colbert. “In flippancy, no joke is actually made. It does not increase affection, it distances people, it armors the soul against joy, and it deadens the intellect.” The jury is still out on Mr. Colbert’s late-night success, but in his 45-minute interview with Father Rosica, Mr. Colbert describes a purposeful approach to his comedy. “But jokes, laughter, humour, joy, whatever you want to call it, it connects people, and as I said earlier, what do we want to be? Not alone.”
That’s a new way, for me at least, to look at the purpose of comedy. The surprise, too, is that while liberal-versus-conservative debates rage over what kind of Catholicism is being created by Pope Francis, Mr. Colbert represents something else. The Colbert approach represents the believer who sees past structure and rules that people have created, and one who focuses on the source that started the Church.
“I’m no particular exemplar of my faith … I just happen to have affection for my Church, and I love the opportunity, the traditions that my Church gives me to contemplate the message of Christ,” said Mr. Colbert. We meet these types of people all over the place, people adept at taking their view of Christ into whatever stage of life they may be in. People who are informed, committed to God, and subversive to both church and society.
“Willing to be wrong in society, or wrong according to our time, but right according to our conscience, which is guided by the Holy Spirit,” said Mr. Colbert. With a wink he chides his church representative, “are you writing this down? I mean, I should have this in Latin, what I just said.”
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