Raised in the deep south and the youngest of 11 children, Stephen was never like the other kids. Somewhat of a loner, he escaped into fantasy by reading science fiction and playing Dungeons & Dragons.
His South Carolina upbringing included a strong Catholic faith, which he continues to this day. Watching TV as a child, Stephen realized early on that southerners were often depicted as stupid, and he made a concerted effort to not sound southern by studying speech patterns of anchormen on the national news shows.
When he was ten years old, Stephen’s dad and two of his brothers were killed in the crash of an Eastern Airlines plane attempting to land in Charlotte, North Carolina.
As a teenager, Stephen dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, but surgery on a perforated eardrum left him deaf in his right ear and unable to pursue a career involving scuba diving.
Instead, he turned his attention elsewhere, enrolling as a theater major at Northwestern University. After graduation, he joined Chicago’s Second City improv group, and eventually found a measure of success on the TV sketch comedy show Exit 57.
One thing led to another, and Stephen joined The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn in 1997. Two years later, Jon Stewart took over as host, the show became sharply political, and Stephen’s career began to skyrocket.
In 2005, he hosted his own show, The Colbert Report, playing a Bill O’Reilly type blowhard. In 2015 he took over for David Letterman as the host of The Late Show on CBS.
Trailing Jimmy Fallon in the ratings, Colbert’s show shot to the top soon after Donald Trump was elected president. Colbert attacked Trump’s excesses head on, in biting comedy monologues and skits.
Last week, Colbert fiercely defended widely respected newsman John Dickerson, a CBS colleague belittled and banished by Trump, calling Trump a “presi-dunce” who is “turning into a real prick-tator” (and this was before Trump fired FBI director James Comey). Colbert also made what some called a homophobic remark.
Now the FCC may step in (you know how sensitive the Trump administration is about bigoted slurs) but the comic remains unapologetic. “I have the jokes, he has the launch codes,” said Colbert, “so it’s a fair fight.”
This Saturday, May 13th, is Stephen Colbert’s 53rd birthday. The shy southern kid has come a long way.