The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer

Shermer on The Colbert Report

November 2007

Being interviewed (if that’s what you can call it) by the inimitable Stephen Colbert was one of the wilder experiences of my career. I would imagine by now that most readers of eSkeptic know that Comedy Central’s hit series The Colbert Report features the comedian Stephen Colbert playing a role that is largely a parody of Bill O’Reilly and The O’Reilly Factor. Exaggerating the extremes of the conservative position on nearly everything, Colbert gets in his hilarious digs by arguing against liberals and liberalism. Well, words don’t do the show justice. You just have to see it. Anyway, I was on last Tuesday night. The show is taped in New York. Stephen was good enough to come by the green room (they’re never green, by the way) to introduce himself and explain, “You know, I play a complete idiot on the show, so just try to debunk me like you would any idiot.” (This introduction was very unusual. I’ve been on Larry King, Bill Maher, Oprah, and Dennis Miller, all several times each, and never once have any of them ever spoken to me before or after the show. The funniest was the first time I was on Dennis Miller’s show — I didn’t see him in person until they plopped me in the chair next to him during a commercial break, and when the cameras started rolling he turned to me and said “Sherms! How you doin’?”, like we were old pals going way back.) After Stephen left, the producer came in to review about a dozen questions that Stephen might ask, emphasizing that he might not ask any of them, or that he might start with the first one and then just wing it. That’s exactly what happened. The first question asked me to prove that I was the publisher of Skeptic magazine, and we were off and running from there, as you’ll see in this clip. It was also one of the more difficult interviews I’ve done as he is quite verbally facile, aggressive, and so damn funny that it was hard to stop laughing and try to get in just a couple of points. At least I didn’t throw water on him, which Richard Branson did the next night, another clip well worth watching (they are available on Comedy Central’s web page).

—Michael Shermer

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7 Comments to “Shermer on The Colbert Report”

  1. Webmaster T. Says:

    I am skeptical of the claims in Alan’s comment. Cheerleaders commonly wear short skirts and kick their legs high into the air and I have yet to see Shermer try that. Alan then claims that Shermer is a materialist by bagging him up and slapping a label on him when in fact I suspect that Shermer has spent a lot of time in thought and contemplation in order to reach the insights and conclusions that he has. Thought and contemplation are not exactly materialistic but would be in order for anyone before claiming Shermer to have been without a father.

  2. Toni Says:

    I enjoyed this video, Thanks for sharing it. Colbert is quick and witty. It’s like he has a come back line before you can finish a statement. I feel this threw you for a loop. This man has a great talent. How many people could make Dr.Shermer silly dizzy like this. Colbert was dizzy,witty,silly and unique to what we are all accustom too. It was refreshing to wittiness this. It was charming. between the LOLs I did actually get some good incites from Dr. Shermer though. I hope Shermer is refreshed by the chance of even meeting this kind of human being. At the end of the video I saw the statements longing to shouted to the nations. I know he wants the best 4 all of us. I’m glad this happened, by chance to laugh at the aged debate.

  3. Cliff Says:

    Yo yo Shermster,

    Would it kill ya to laugh at yourself? Colbert may have told you he was going to be an idiot, but he got you at the end with the Big Foot problem.

    Your only argument against Aliens is based on a Newtonian standard of evidence which of course isn’t applicable in the case of intelligent life forms.

    Remember the legendary giant squid of ancient lore that washed up on a beach one day? Or the Snow Leopard.

    Whatever will you do when the Aliens come?

  4. Grendel The Martyr Says:

    Not a good venue for a skeptic, but face time is face time. Colbert, playing a faux Bill O’Reilly or other iconic conservative, has to schtick to his stick, er, stick to his schtick and pretty much hogs most of the brief time allowed. Still, Shermer got a few points in. I wish there were still true talk shows on the air, like those once hosted by Dick Cavett and Tom Snyder. There a skeptic might actually be allowed to go into some detail without all the manic laugh-mongering.

  5. GM Says:

    I think we could use more people like Colbert. There are people who really do think like his “act” and it might help them to see themselves as who they really are.

  6. Mark Says:

    Shermer was a bit rigid, but held up well.

    Yes, Colbert parodies O’Reilly very well. The problem is that O’Reilly is a rude, bambastic blowhard… so Colbert veers into the same behavior. I wish the interview had been a little more intellectually sly, but that’s like wishing Fox News was fair and balanced.

  7. Colbert Stephen Says:

    Michael, it’s not so much an exaggeration of a devout Conservative, it’s essentially an accurate impersonation. It’s not hard to do, but it’s hard to do with such wit, and humor.

    It’s an extension of Poe’s Law.

    Poe’s Law states:

    “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.[1]”

    Poe’s Law points out that it is hard to tell parodies of fundamentalism from the real thing, since they both seem equally insane. Conversely, real fundamentalism can easily be mistaken for a parody of fundamentalism. For example, some conservatives consider noted homophobe Fred Phelps to be so over-the-top that they argue he’s a “deep cover liberal” trying to discredit more mainstream homophobes.