Stephen Colbert at the White House
When Mark Smith was introducing everyone at the head table, Colbert received a glorious amount of applause (no doubt
about it: significantly more cheers than Mr. President). He stood up and pointed to the crowd, making it very clear
that he was in-character already. I immediately thought to myself, "Uh-oh, this could mean trouble."
After the introductions, everyone had dinner, so there was a gap of over an hour before Colbert did his speech. I tuned in and out of the in-between material, which was okay, I guess. Polite, grown-up, "roasting the boss, but not enough to get fired" jokes.
I was a little worn out from the speeches by the time Colbert took the podium. His speech was very funny. I would have laughed out loud more if I wasn't so busy cringing. No lie. The audience barely responded (unless you consider awkward silence a response) and I could feel Colbert fans everywhere twitching with anxiety. While other speakers made silly jokes about Bush's mispronunciations and the cramped workspaces of the press, Colbert took no prisoners and made jokes about everything from NSA wire-tapping to Bush's horrible approval rating to Valerie Plame. If he had done this material on The Colbert Report, everyone would have laughed like nothing was out of place... But at the dinner, Bush was right there. Right there. Just a few feet away from Colbert. This made me (and many fans) excruciatingly uncomfortable. I don't know if the lack of laughter (save for one or two jokes out of dozens) was because people were afraid to laugh with Bush so near or if they genuinely thought Colbert was being unfunny. Personally, I thought his performance was wickedly strong (albeit slightly recycled from his show), but the circumstances made everything awkward.
He also presented an audition tape for the position of Press Secretary. I was really surprised/happy to see Helen Thomas putting on a great show in a special appearance and I laughed numerous times (some favorite parts: "NOOOOOOO! NOOOO!"; key-fumbling; Karl & Stephen). It looked like something pulled right out of The Colbert Report. This was a lot more light-hearted than the preceding speech, so I expected the audience to be hooting with laughter once it ended. How wrong I was. Helen Thomas was in tears, but everyone else was just clapping politely. No cheers, no standing ovation. Poor Stephen... I wanted to crawl into the TV and give him a hug.
But y'know what? Stephen Colbert -- not character-Colbert, but the real guy -- has BALLS. Seriously. That took massive brass steel ADAMANTIUM balls to do. Part of me wished that he didn't stay in character to save himself the pain, but another part of me is really glad he did that. He took his truthiness to the belly of the beast and he should be commended for that.
To Mr. Colbert: I, and the rest of the Colbert Nation, love you.
[EDIT] Crooks and Liars has video.