How Stephen Colbert Makes The Colbert Report: A New Podcast Explains His Typical Day

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“I do the show in character, he’s an idiot, he’s willfully ignorant of what you know and care about, please honestly disabuse me of my ignorance and we’ll have a great time.” 

This secret speaks to the heart of comedian and fake-pundit Stephen Colbert’s wildly popular Colbert Report. But how exactly does he manage to pull this rabbit from his hat, night after night grueling night?

The nuts and bolts of Colbert’s working day make for a fascinating inaugural episode of Working, a new Slate podcast hosted by David Plotz. It shares a title with radio personality Studs Terkel’s famous non-fictional examination, but Plotz’s project is more process oriented. Soup-to-nuts-and-bolts, if you will.

Colbert is happy to oblige with a Little Red Hen-like corn metaphor in which alcohol, not bread, is the ultimate goal.

His morning begins with a deep rummage through the headlines—Google News, Reddit, Slate, The Drudge Report, Fox News, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post… imagine if this stack was made of paper. When does he have the time to google ex-girlfriends?

Whenever patterns and trends emerge, Colbert and his hard working team ferret out ways to impose his character onto them. Occasionally some lucky non-story will find itself elevated to Queen for a Day, if it speaks to something Colbert-the-character would care about passionately. The proposed ban on horse carriages in Central Park, the Colorado VA’s marijuana stance, and the self-declared lesbian trouple are three that have borne fruit of late.

From pitch meeting through read-aloud and rewrites, the school hours portion of Colbert’s day resembles that of other deadline-driven shows. He’s quick to acknowledge the contributions of a dedicated and like-minded staff, including executive producer Tom Purcell and head writer Opus—as in Bloom County—Moreschi.

As showtime approaches, Colbert swaps his jeans for a Brooks Brothers suit, and leaves the homey, dog-friendly townhouse where the bulk of the writing takes place for the studio next door.

There are last minute rewrites, a guest to greet, a Bic pen to be nibbled

Ideally, he’ll get at least 10 minutes of headspace to become the monster of his own making, liberal America’s favorite willfully ignorant idiot. (Most of liberal America, anyway. My late-mother-in-law refused to believe it was an act, but it is.)

A bit of schtick with the makeup artist serves as a litmus test for audience responsiveness.

When the cameras roll, Colbert sticks close to his prompter, further proof that the character is a construct. Any improvisational impulses are unleashed during one-on-one interactions with the guest. With some 10,000 hours of comedy under his belt, his instincts tend toward the unerring.

At days end, he thanks the audience, the guest and everyone backstage except for one guy who gets a mere wave. The show is then edited at a zip squeal pace, and will hopefully fall into the “yay!” category. (The other choices are “solid” or “wrench to the head.”)

Colbert will only watch the show if there was a problem.

And then? The day begins again.

After peering through this window onto Colbert’s world, we’re stoked for future episodes of Working, when guests as varied as a rock musician, a hospice nurse, and porn star Jessica Drake walk Plotz through a typical day. You

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Ayun Halliday is the creator of The Mermaid’s Legs, a trauma-filled Hans Christian Andersen reboot premiering this week in NYC. See it! And follow her @AyunHalliday

How Wolves Change Rivers

In nature, everything is connected — connected in ways you might not expect. The short video above is narrated by George Monbiot, an English writer and environmentalist, who now considers himself a “rewilding campaigner.” The concept of rewilding and how it can save ecosystems in general, and how wolves changed Yellowstone National Park in particular, is something Monbiot explains in greater detail in his 2013 TED Talk below, and in his new book — Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding.

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IAI Academy Now Offers Free Courses: From “The Meaning of Life” to “A Brief Guide to Everything”

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This month, The Institute of Art and Ideas (IAI), an organization committed to fostering “a progressive and vibrant intellectual culture in the UK,” launched IAI Academy — a new online educational platform that features courses in philosophy, science and politics. The initial lineup includes 12 courses covering everything from theoretical physics, the meaning of life, the future of feminism, the often vexed relationship between science and religion, and more.

IAI Academy offers its courses for free. But, like other course providers, they charge a nominal fee (right now about $25) if you would like a Verified Certificate when you’ve successfully completed a course. Here’s the initial lineup:

  • A Brief Guide to Everything – Web Video – John Ellis, King’s College London, CBE 
  • The Meaning of Life – Web Video – Steve Fuller, University of Warwick
  • New Adventures in Spacetime – Web Video – Eleanor Knox, King’s College London
  • Minds, Morality and Agency – Web Video – Mark Rowlands, University of Miami
  • Nine Myths About Schizophrenia – Web Video – Richard Bentall, University of Liverpool
  • The History of Fear – Web Video – Frank Furedi, University of Kent
  • Physics: What We Still Don’t Know – Web Video – David Tong, Cambridge
  • Science vs. Religion – Web Video – Mark Vernon, Journalist/Philosopher
  • Sexuality and Power – Web Video – Veronique Mottier, University of Lausanne
  • The Infinite Quest – Web Video – Peter Cameron, Queen Mary University of London.
  • End of Equality – Web Video – Beatrix Campbell – Writer/Activist
  • Rethinking Feminism – Web Video – Finn Mackay – Feminist Activist & Researcher

For more evergreen courses that you can download and enjoy whenever you want, don’t miss our collection, 1000 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

For MOOCs being provided in real-time, see our list of MOOCs from Great Universities.

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Toby Dammit: Fellini’s Masterful Short Film, Based on a Tale by Edgar Allan Poe (1968)

The writings of Edgar Allan Poe have long been tempting source material for filmmakers. Roger Corman made a series of enjoyable shlocky adaptations back in the 1960s. D. W. Griffith turned Poe’s “The Avenging Conscience” into a Victorian morality play. Italian horror master Dario Argento took a stab with The Black Cat. But perhaps the best Poe adaptation out there is Federico Fellini’s Toby Dammit You can watch it above.

The short was a part of the 1968 omnibus movie Spirits of the Dead, which also featured segments by Roger Vadim and Louis Malle. Fellini’s movie is based on Poe’s short story “Never Bet the Devil Your Head.” Poe was sick of the literary establishment railing against his work for not having a moral for the audience, so he wrote a tongue-in-cheek tale that had a thuddingly obvious one. It’s in the title. In the story, Toby Dammit is a foolish lad who, in spite of having no money, would bet on anything, using his head as collateral. Eventually, the devil takes him up on the offer and, not surprisingly, Dammit loses his head. Literally.

The movie has little of the satirical edge of Poe’s story, but Fellini’s flashy decadence meshes surprisingly well with Poe’s brooding morbidity. Terence Stamp plays Dammit, a washed up, alcoholic Shakespearean actor who looks a bit like a bleached out version of Poe himself. Lured by promises of a Ferrari, he goes to Rome to appear in the world’s first Catholic Western. Dammit soon finds himself haunted by visions of the devil. No red horns here. This Satan comes in the form of a creepy blonde girl who looks like she was pulled straight out of a Japanese horror movie. The second half of the movie is a phantasmagoric joy ride as a crazed Dammit blasts through the streets of Rome in his new car.  It’s a drive straight to a very Felliniesque hell.

All of Fellini’s trademark stylistic traits are there on the screen. Gorgeous, if vapid women, in elaborate hairstyles? Check. Bizarre Catholic imagery? Check. Paparazzi asking improbably philosophical questions? Yup. Fellini turns Poe’s tortured gloom into the sort of spiraling existential malaise that he perfected in La Dolce Vita and 8 ½. If you’re a Fellini fan, this film really is a joy to watch.

Though Fellini’s segment was the clear stand out of the three shorts – New York Times critic Vincent Canby declared Toby Dammit to be a “short movie but a major one” – the other two movies weren’t as well received and Spirits of the Dead was soon forgotten. Then renowned cinematographer and Fellini collaborator Giuseppe Rotunno had Toby Dammit restored. When it screened at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, it was hailed as a lost Fellini masterpiece.

via Biblioklept

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

The C.I.A.’s “Bestiary of Intelligence Writing” Satirizes Spook Jargon with Maurice Sendak-Style Drawings

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Ten years in academia gave me a healthy dislike of clichéd jargon, as well as an appreciation for jokes about it. There are a few, like the academic sentence generator and Ph.D. Comics, that capture a bit of what it’s like to go to school and work in higher ed. Corporate drones, of course, have Office Space and Dilbert. But what about the spooks, those nameless, faceless agents who work tirelessly away in the basement of Langley, doing who knows what to whom? Where does the C.I.A. go to laugh at its peculiar brand of hackneyed doublespeak? Not that we were supposed to know this, but perhaps many of them turn to an article called “the Bestiary of Intelligence Writing” in a 1982 copy of internal agency newsletter Studies in Intelligence.

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Medium describes this odd piece as a “zoo of fictional fauna,” and like that strange literary form, the medieval European bestiary (often a source of satire and critique), this 17-page article, with footnotes, singles out the most offensive spook buzzwords as though they were cardinal sins—naming 15 members of “the Collection” in all, each one represented by its own Maurice Sendak-like pencil-drawn beast and a description of its habits. The two-headed beast at the top, Multidisciplinary Analysis, is a “hybrid—the fruit of the casual mating of standard forms of Analysis.” Just above, we have Heightened Tensions, “the adult form of Conventional Tensions—Tensions that have acquired stilts by thriving on a rich diet of poverty, malnutrition and especially alienation.” Sounds like rough work, this spy game….

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Most of the beasts are cuddly enough, some mischievous, some perhaps deadly. Above, we have Dire Straits and below, Parameters. “The Agency author and artist detailed 15 monsters in all—complete with illustrations,” writes Medium, “Both of their names are redacted in the document. We’ll never know just which CIA agents turned their hand towards snarky political satire.” The document comes to us via a cache of records declassified in a lawsuit filed by former agency employee Jeffry Scudder. We do know that the two anonymous lampoonists were inspired by A Political Bestiary, book by James Kilpatrick, cartoonist Jeff MacNelly, and former senator and presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy. See the full, bone dry article here, and think about the work talk that might drive you to such creative extremes.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

The Student of Prague: The Very First Independent Film (1913)

When people talk about “independent cinema” today, they seem, as often as not, to talk about a sensibility — we all know, on some level, what someone means when they tell us they “like indie films.” But the term has its roots, of course, not necessarily in independence of spirit, but in independence from systems. Now that technology has granted all of us the ability, at least in theory, to make any movie we want, this distinction has lost some of its meaning, but between about twenty and eighty years ago, the commercial establishments controlling production, distribution, and screening enjoyed their greatest solidity (and indeed, impenetrability). During that time, making a film independently meant making a fairly specific, often anti-Hollywood statement. But what about before then, when the medium of cinema itself had yet to take its full shape?

Not only does 1913’s The Student of Prague offer an entertaining example of independent film from an era before even Hollywood had become Hollywood, it has a place in history as the first independent film ever released. German writer Hanns Heinz Ewers and Danish director Stellan Rye (not to mention star Paul Wegener, he of the Golem trilogy) collaborated to bring to early cinematic life this 19th-century horror story of the titular student, a down-at-the-heels bon vivant who, besotted with a countess and determined to win her by any means necessary, makes a deal with a devilish sorcerer that will fulfill his every desire. The catch? He summons the student’s reflection out of the mirror and into reality. So empowered, this doppelgänger goes around wreaking havoc. Hardly the ostensibly high-minded material of “indie film” — let alone “foreign film” — from the past half-century or so, but The Student of Prague treats it with respect, arriving at the kind of uncompromising ending that might surprise even modern audiences. If you don’t watch it today, keep it bookmarked for Halloween viewing.

You can find The Student of Prague added to our big film collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

6 Hours of Mannequins Flying From Newark to San Francisco

Is there anything worse than flying from Newark to San Francisco? Maybe it’s watching mannequins taking this cross-country flight. Talk about tedium. And yet there’s something a little brilliant about this six hour advertisement from Virgin Airlines — which promises a more inspiring flight. I mean how many six hour advertisements have you seen, let alone ones that have “action” from start to finish? Somewhere, someone’s going to watch this thing all the way through. Maybe it’s you.

Professor Michael Stipe: R.E.M.’s Frontman Now Teaching Art Classes at NYU

 

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Admirers of Michael Stipe will know that he before he became a famous rock star with R.E.M., he was an art student at the University of Georgia. He may have skipped the degree, but he never stopped making things, including the photography and design of the band’s album covers, the lighting and stage design of their live shows, and several of their videos. Now a rock star emeritus, Stipe makes things full time in an official capacity as the visiting artist and scholar in residence at the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art. He has recently curated an “evolving exhibition project” called NEW SIGHTS, NEW NOISE, writes Eric Alper, “produced collaboratively with Jonathan Berger” and including “contributions from special guests Douglas Coupland, Jefferson Hack, Peaches,” and others.

Appearing at NYU’s 80 WSE Gallery, the exhibition also includes work from Stipe’s students. That’s right, Michael Stipe is a “shiny happy” college professor, as this pun-happy Spin article tells us, and the show comes from his class assignments: “Each week, Stipe and a different special guest will give the class’ 18 students a prompt, and they’ll respond with ‘100 images and gifs, both found and made, all of which will be uploaded to a private class website.’” It’s all centered around themes Stipe has pursued for some time, as you can see from his Tumblr. He describes the project on R.E.M.’s website as referring to “the glut and onslaught of information made available by the internet, often without context or authorship; the disproportionate and impulsive reactions that it provokes, and the reckless cynicism of a 24 hour news cycle.” Read much more about the project at Alper’s blog, and see much more of Stipe’s work—with sculpture, painting, and film—at the Creator’s Project video above from 2011.

photo by David Shankbone.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Night on Bald Mountain: An Eery, Avant-Garde Pinscreen Animation Based on Mussorgsky’s Masterpiece (1933)

If you read Open Culture regularly, I imagine I can safely call Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker your favorite France-based, Russian-American husband-wife pinscreen animation team. Dare I presume to refer to them as your favorite pinscreen animators, period? We’ve previously featured two examples of their time- and labor-devouring but utterly distinctive animation technique: their eerie opening to Orson Welles’ adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial, and their own dazzling adaptation of Gogol’s short story “The Nose.” Alexeieff and Parker’s trip to the Gogol well reflects their penchant for the imaginative creators of Alexeieff’s homeland. The film we present here draws its inspiration not from a Russian writer, but from the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, himself an enthusiastic incorporator of his country’s lore and traditions.

You certainly know at least one work of Mussorgsky’s: Night on Bald Mountain, which he wrote early in his career but which never saw a full orchestral debut until 1886, five years after his death. Over half a century after that, the piece found a much wider audience through its use in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. For many, that intersection of Mussorgsky and Mickey Mouse will remain the finest example of classical music united with animation, but have a look at how Alexeieff and Parker did it — in 1933, no less, seven years before Fantasia — and see what Cartoon Research’s Steve Stanchfield calls “one of the most unusual and unique looking animated films ever created.” It presents, he writes, “both delightful and at times horrifying imagery, a stream of consciousness barrage of images that challenge the viewer to comprehend both their meaning and the mystery of how they were created.”

To my four-year-old self, Fantasia seemed pretty scary too, but Alexeieff and Parker have, on their pinscreen, taken things to a whole other psychological level. Nearly forty years later, they would use the music of Musskorgy again to create 1972’s French-language Pictures at an Exhibition just above. They would make another, Trois Themes, in 1980, but it appears lost to time, at least for the moment. Have we made you into the kind of pinscreen animation enthusiast who might unearth it?

You can find Night on Bald Mountain on our list of Animated Films, part of our larger collection called 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Breaking Bad Illustrated by Gonzo Artist Ralph Steadman

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Sure, I suffered from Breaking Bad withdrawal syndrome after the show’s excellent fifth and final season. Symptoms included watching episodes of Metástasis, the Colombian telenovela-style, Spanish language remake; obsessively reading news about upcoming spin-off, Better Call Saul; and wishing the hoax about a Season 6 was true. The condition is widespread, shared by fans of other cult hits like Dexter and The Wire. Many take to the alternate universes of fan fiction and art, and who can blame them? We become as engrossed in the lives of television characters as we do members of our own family, though I feel for you if your family is as dysfunctional as Walter White’s.

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The unlikely drug kingpin from suburban Albuquerque appealed to us, I think, because he seemed so nondescript , so painfully ordinary—a domesticated everyman, until desperation and hubris turned him into the feared and respected Heisenberg. No small amount of wish fulfillment for audiences there. Breaking Bad’s world of hyperviolence and insanity resembles the dangerous real world of desperadoes, sleazy opportunists, and mercenaries that Hunter S. Thompson fearlessly documented, and so it makes perfect sense that Thompson illustrator Ralph Steadman would be chosen to draw six covers for an upcoming release of all five seasons of the show on Blu-ray (the last season is broken in two, the way it was broadcast). At the top of the post, see Steadman’s glowering rendition of Walt/Heisenberg himself. Just above, see a dazed and confused Jesse Pinkman, and below, the blasted visage of their supplier turned arch-enemy, Gus Fring. (The complicated, and bafflingly much-despised Skyler does not get her own cover.)

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Steadman’s illustrations for Thompson’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, a “surreal drug-fueled road trip” of a book, prefigure the lawless liminal spaces of Breaking Bad’s surreal desert landscapes (remember the turtle?). His renderings of a crazed Thompson on his “savage journey to the heart of the American dream” perhaps even inspired the dangerously unhinged journey Walt and Jesse take together. Coming in February, the Steadman-illustrated Blu-ray collection is a limited edition and will, Dangerous Minds informs us, “be sold exclusively by Zavvi.com ($30 bucks each). Pre-order is going on now but be forewarned, the Gus “The Chicken Man” Fring edition for season four (as well as Mike Ehrmantraut’s season five and Hank Schrader’s show finale season) have already sold-out.” Lots of Breaking Bad addicts out there, desperate for a fix. If you’re one of them, act fast, though it’s likely Steadman will eventually offer prints for sale (and maybe mugs and t-shirts, too) on his website. See the other three covers over at Dangerous Minds.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.


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