“You Can’t Laugh and Be Afraid” Parade Web Exclusive of Stephen Colbert by James Kaplan

Here is the original article from Parade. I love the quote that “you can’t laugh and be afraid” at the same time. I guess I apply the same principle to maintaining a positive attitude. Even just the simple act of smiling can improve your day. Yes, it takes effort, but the effort is worth it. In my job, I notice lots of people that scurry about from one point to another and they just look angry. Why? Even when I’m having a bad day I try to find something to be happy about. Usually it’s a little thing like hearing a good song, or maybe it’s something more profound like feeling contented with my family. Either way, if you spend the effort looking for something positive, you will find it.


I had a director at Second City who, on the very first night I performed there, said, ‘Learn to love the bomb.” I didn’t know what he meant for a long time. He said, “ I don’t mean, ‘Just sort of get over it and realize that tomorrow the show will be better,’ but LOVE it.” When I learned to love the bomb, I knew I didn’t want to do anything else. That was also frightening, because I thought, “OK, I’m totally committed now. I don’t think there’s anything else I could do.” And I had a little crisis of confidence once I knew there was nothing else in the world I wanted to do. Because I realized I had chosen something that’s damn near impossible to make a living at.


Stephen Colbert: One of the things that I like about improvisation is that, literally, there are no mistakes. There are only opportunities.

James Kaplan: You embrace the bomb.

SC: You embrace the bomb. And that idea is so appealing to me, because it’s also about valuing suffering, and gratitude for bad things — because really, what’s the option? MotherT heresa said, “Smile and accept.” I love that.


In a way that’s not easy to explain, I am grateful. I am grateful to be given the gift to have seen [my mother] survive it and to have had the suffering myself, because there is no escaping suffering. So you have to be grateful for it.


I loved it. I jumped right into that world, and I didn’t come back for a long time. From science fiction I was introduced by friends to fantasy, and found The Lord of the Rings a couple of years later. I was 13 before I read Lord of the Rings. Then that was a whole other world. Then I started playing Dungeons and Dragons. Boy, that was for me.


Stephen Colbert: I love Lord of the Rings. I’ve read it more times than I can name. I have no idea how many times I’ve read it.

James Kaplan: Somebody said 40 someplace.

SC: I must have said 40 because I used to read it, and finish the last book, and start the first one. There are such great role models in that book. Aragorn in the book especially. In the movie to a certain extent. But in the book, he’s an Apollonian ideal of a man. He is a warrior and a hunter and a poet and a scholar and a woodsman and a healer. Everything in moderation, everything done beautifully. And a peacemaker… When I was in my twenties, I thought, “ That’s a good model.” I mean, not in any way that I base myself [on], but that’s a lovely message.


The minute I went to college, I didn’t believe in God. The minute I had an opportunity to sort of be out from under the constant exposure to my faith, I accepted the opportunity to not believe. And I was very convinced of my atheism for a long time, and I was very depressed about it. I wanted very much to believe… I wanted the idea that I would see my father and my brothers again, and it was heartbreaking to think that that wouldn’t happen. The fool says in his heart that there is no God, and I was sad to be that fool. I would rather have been a fool for God, but I was so convinced that believing in God was foolish. There were five years maybe when I couldn’t think of why to get up. That wasn’t good. But the desire to believe always was there. The fact that thread was never cut was helpful. Then one day, a Gideon gave me a Bible walking down a street in Chicago….


Stephen Colbert: I’ve got a big ego. I’m not going to say I’m a humble person. I couldn’t do this job. But be humble enough to think that you might be wrong about being so right. You might be wrong about everyone else being so wrong.

James Kaplan: You do have a big ego, huh?

SC: Sure. I don’t think people can do this without an ego. You need it. I need to be able to say on a daily basis, ‘The show will be this, the show will be that.” I have wonderful people that I trust to make those decisions when it’s too much for me. But to create a show like this, or to do any kind of performance, I think to do any kind of thing where you present yourself or your work to the people, however much you may demur, you have an ego. Or else there’s not that much to express. I get to piggyback my ego on my character’s ego, and pretend it’s only his.

JK: The world’s greatest cover.

SC: It is, isn’t it? And we have the same name.


I probably am neurotic, but my particular neurosis is to choose to not be — which is probably a very dangerous kind. [LAUGHS] It will all probably come down to me in one wild, inappropriate burst at some point in the future, and they’ll go, ‘I never saw it coming; he seemed so un-neurotic.” But I’ve got to tell you, when I don’t get to perform, I am probably more neurotic. The weeks that we’re in here writing and not performing, which are supposed to be weeks off essentially for me, are much harder for me than the weeks where I have to write and perform. Because I get that release, and I get to connect to the audience.

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