It seems as though any time a discussion of Stephen Colbert (the actor) as a Catholic comes up in the blogosphere, a handful of key interviews show up. There are those who maintain that even when he’s being interviewed, he maintains his satirical character, but there’s a consistency and a genuineness to his responses that suggest that the grounding in faith is real. And that foundation gives him a body of material on which to build his character’s rather skewed beliefs and also move in and out of those beliefs as the comedic situation demands. He’s quick to remind people that no matter what the subject is, he’s first and foremost a comedian.
In an interview with Time Out Magazine, he responded to a question about This Week in God: “How do you square your Catholicism with comedy?”
I love my Church, and I’m a Catholic who was raised by intellectuals, who were very devout. I was raised to believe that you could question the Church and still be a Catholic. What is worthy of satire is the misuse of religion for destructive or political gains. That’s totally different from the Word, the blood, the body and the Christ. His kingdom is not of this earth.
In the same interview, talking about interviewing someone he regarded as hypocritical, he said, “I would have liked to satirically rough him up, because I thought he was bullying people with his religion. But I promised. And that’s the kind of work we do on The Daily Show: You have to maintain a level of humanity.”
And this from the oft-cited NPR Fresh Air interview:
This Week in God is–you know, This Week in God is, for me, a tightrope, because I–while I’m, you know, not a particularly religious person, I do go to church, which makes me kind of odd for my profession. You know, most people can’t understand why I do, other comedians. And I have to walk that thin line because I don’t want to criticize anyone’s religions for the fact that it is a religion, and what’s funny to me is what people do in the name of religion. …
We’re, you know, very devout and, you know, I still go to church and, you know, my children are being raised in the Catholic Church. And I was actually my daughters’ catechist last year for First Communion, which was a great opportunity to speak very simply and plainly about your faith without anybody saying, `Yeah, but do you believe that stuff?’ which happens a lot in what I do.
You know, that’s the hallmark of an American Catholic, is the individuation of America and the homogenation of the church; homogenation in terms of dogma. I love my church and I don’t think that it actually makes zombies or unquestioning people. I think it’s actually a church that values intellectualism, but certainly, it can become very dogmatically rigid.
Somebody once asked me, `How do you be a father’–’cause I’m a father of three children–`and be anti-authoritarian?’ And I said, `Well, that’s not nearly as hard as being anti-authoritarian and being a Roman Catholic,’ you know? That’s really patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. I don’t know. You know, I don’t believe that I can’t disagree with my church and I’ll leave it at that.
A wonderful four-part interview with Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle is available for download here. I was particularly struck by what he said in response to a question about how the tragic death of his father and two brothers affected the family:
“The shepherd will be struck and the sheep will be scattered.” [a quote from the Gospel of Mark, in turn quoting the prophet Zechariah]. I get a sense that this is someone with a bit more than a passing acquaintance with Scripture.
In December 2006, he was on Charlie Rose and commented on how he keeps the material on the show fresh: “I talk about things that interest me. I talk about religion a great deal on my show and that interests me.” And this same notion is fleshed out a bit here.
Here’s a clip from The Colbert Report when Andrew Sullivan was the guest. I was pleased at the reminder that Catholics don’t read the Bible literally, something that even Catholics sometimes forget. (It’s an older Comedy Central player, so it’s a bit balky, but worth the wait.) And I loved the exchange about blogging.