Nation, I’m not necessarily a big fan of Stephen Colbert’s blowhard-y right wing persona on “The Colbert Report,” (Jon Stewart is my late-night deity) but his on-location shows this week in Baghdad are something to watch—and congratulations are in order for taking his brand of comedy to the war zone for a four-night run.
Cleverly titled "Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando," Colbert began a week of entertaining the troops in one of Saddam Hussein’s many former palaces with a rollicking taped skit of him traveling overseas, not really knowing where he was going, and crossing various places off the list en route. It was only when a single shoe—and then a bunch—were thrown at him that the clueless pundit that he plays on TV realized where he was.
And then it was showtime for Colbert, sporting a camouflage suit and a brand new buzz cut, courtesy of his first guest, Gen. Ray Odierno—or Raymond’s for Men, as the comedian called it. In a nod to Bob Hope, he also carried a golf club.
The comedy was topical, not political—although the nation’s commander in chief made a taped appearance to thank the troops for their service. “You’re welcome,” Colbert said, to which the president responded, “I wasn’t talking to you.” Former President Clinton also dissed Colbert in a bit that started off straight.
The trip is sponsored by the USO, which has a storied history of bringing entertainers to American troops. (Proceeds from the sale of “The Colbert Report" this week on iTunes will benefit the service organization, which last year alone brought entertainment to nearly 250,000 troops stationed around the world.)
But despite all the levity, there is a serious purpose. Who’s talking about the war in Iraq these days? Sadly, since the election, it’s fallen off the media map, eclipsed by news about the economy, Speidi and Proposition 8. Lost in the loss of coverage is the service and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women in a war that’s now gone on for six years.
Mr. Colbert acknowledged that ugly truth about this very unpopular war. From behind a desk draped in the American flag and propped up by sandbags, he went for the funny bone: "By the power vested in me by basic cable, I officially declare we have won the Iraq war!"
While his audience roared their approval, the comedian deadpanned: "It must be nice here in Iraq because I understand some of you keep coming back again and again. You've earned so many frequent-flier miles, you've earned a free ticket to Afghanistan."
And Colbert—after his 10 hours of basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C.—has earned his place in the hearts of the US military, and audiences at home.
"The Colbert Report" airs on Comedy Central at 11:30 p.m./10:30 p.m. Central