A good man is hard to find… a good man who can hold an audience rapt by reading aloud for over an hour is harder still.
Soon-to-be Late Show host Stephen Colbert acquits himself quite nicely with Flannery O’Connor’s 1958 short story “The Enduring Chill,” above.
The tale of an ailing New York-based playwright’s unwilling return to his ancestral home is a natural fit for Colbert, raised in Charleston, South Carolina by Northern parents. Recorded at the behest of Selected Shorts, a public radio program wherein well known performers interpret contemporary and classic short fiction, the story—hand picked by Colbert—is a risky choice for 2015.
Like all of O’Connor’s work, it’s darkly comedic, and rife with rich characterizations. It also makes repeated reference to “Negroes,” two of whom the reader—in Colbert’s case, a white man—is tasked with bringing to life. In this current climate, I suspect most white comedians would’ve played it safe with O’Connor’s lurid crowd pleaser, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a staple of high school reading lists, which you can hear O’Connor, herself, read here.
Colbert sails through by bringing his Northwestern University theater training to bear. (O’Connor was a favorite of the Performance Studies department during his time there.)
Having spent years embodying a right wing windbag on his satirical Colbert Report, the comedian clearly relishes the opportunity to tackle a variety of roles, including the main character’s willfully superficial mother, his sour sister, and the aforementioned pre-Civil Rights-era African-American men, workers in the hero’s mother’s dairy barn. The Catholic Colbert also has fun with an unexpectedly less-than-erudite Jesuit priest.
Growing up in South Carolina, Colbert made a conscious decision to steer clear of a Southern accent, but his pronunciation of the word “poem” is a hallmark of authentic here.
As for O’Connor, she gets in a not-so-subtle jab at Gone with the Wind, as well as the sort of reader who, trying to be helpful, counsels an aspirant Southern writer to “put the War in there.”
Something tells me these two would have hit it off…I would’ve loved to hear him interview her along with George Clooney, Amy Schumer, and other first week guests.
Colbert’s reading of “The Enduring Chill” will be added to our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.
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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator and performer who revisits her low budget backpacker travels in the new edition of No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late . Follow her @AyunHalliday
Why can’t I hear this!