Stephen Colbert, like his counterpart Jon Stewart, is often seen as a potent irritant by conservatives. The fact that his comedic schtick frequently apes conservative discourse by presenting the most blatant straw man versions of conservative arguments around no doubt contributes to this perception. However, one factor generally complicates the denunciation of Colbert that does not exist with Stewart - namely, that unlike Stewart, Colbert is playing a character for maximum entertainment value. The politics of the "real" Colbert are usually shrouded in mystery.
But not as of this week, when NBC Anchor David Gregory visited Colbert in his Comedy Central office to interview the fake pundit about his new book, his process, and his own politics.
Colbert's answers may surprise his Republican detractors. For instance, unlike openly liberal comedians like Bill Maher, Colbert admitted to being pleased by GOP nominee Mitt Romney's surge in the polls, because a resurgent conservative makes his job as a comedian easier. Also, unlike Stewart, Colbert offered no media criticism of any kind, instead saying that his job is only to "falsely reconstruct" the news for comedic effect, and admitting his deep-seated respect for people who report the news.
"I'm interested in the news, so people often think that I'm an ideologue or that I have a political intent," Colbert said. "But I comment on things that are in the news. I do not imagine that I am a newsman, I really admire newsmen. I really enjoy good news. And I'm not a politician. But I like playing political games to see what really happens."
On the note of these "political games," Colbert admitted up front that his testimony before Congress last year absolutely should not have been taken seriously because he - both as himself and in character - had absolutely no qualification to be testifying before Congress. Nevertheless, Colbert argued that he was only there to show the absurdity of Congress, which he likened to an eighth grade recess.
"They're so nasty to each other," Colbert marveled.
He also threw barbs at Rachel Maddow, saying in character, "I just come in around 6:30 and say the opposite of what Rachel Maddow said the night before. And I'm usually good."
But the biggest surprise came at the end, when Colbert evinced no strong feelings either way about which of the two candidates for President would be better for the country.
"I'm not Ralph Nader, you know what I mean, I don't think that there's no difference. There is a difference. I don't know what the difference is, though, because I think that there is a possibility that Obama would be say, a more aggressive reformer in the second act of his presidency, and I don't really know--I also don't know how Mitt Romney would govern," Colbert said. "He might govern as a technocrat. That sort of seems to have been his career as like, the guy from Pepsi who comes in to run GM. You know? He can't tell us what he wants to do because he hasn't seen the books yet. But we don't know, because he seems absolutely sincere as a moderate, and he also seems pretty sincere as a severe conservative, so that's not a dig, it's honest confusion. 'Cause he's got a good shot at winning, and if he does, I hope he's a good President, and if Obama wins, I hope he keeps some of the promises he didn't keep the first time, but I have no idea how it changes for us, but I know that there's gotta be a difference between these two men, or we're all part of a huge, cruel joke."
Not exactly the words of a committed partisan Democrat. Watch Colbert's by turns bizarre and thought provoking interview below: