Colbert on Despair and Faith

September 27, 2007

Parade has a very interesting interview with my favorite comedian--Stephen Colbert. He talks about personal tragedy, his loss of faith, and his return to God. Here are some highlights from the piece:

"I like damaged people," says Stephen Colbert. "And I am certainly damaged."

... But when Colbert tells me he's "damaged," he's being painfully honest. He grew up as the youngest of 11 children--eight sons, three daughters--of James and Lorna Colbert, a research physician and a homemaker on James Island in Charleston, S.C. It was a big, bustling, Irish-Catholic family--"a humorocracy," Colbert recalls. "Singing around the house highly encouraged."

Then, on a single terrible day--Sept. 11, 1974--everything changed. Dr. Colbert was flying with sons Peter and Paul to enroll the boys in a New England prep school when their commercial flight crashed in Charlotte, N.C. All three were killed.

With his other older brothers and sisters either working or heading back to college that fall, the big household was suddenly diminished to just two: 10-year-old Stephen and his mom. "The shades were down, and she wore a lot of black, and it was very quiet," he remembers. "She was a daily communicant, and many times I was too. It was a constant search for healing. My mother gave that gift to all of us. I am so blessed to have been the child at home with her."

... Soon after graduation, he was living in Chicago--an earnest young actor with a full beard and a proclivity for dressing in black. He also had lost his faith. "I was very depressed about it," he says. "I wanted the idea that I would see my father and brothers again, and it was heartbreaking to think that that wouldn't happen."

Then, one icy winter day, as Colbert walked down a street in Chicago, a Gideon handed him a Bible. "It was so cold, I had to crack the pages," he recalls. "I flipped it open, and it had a list of things to read about if you were feeling different ways. Under 'Anxiety,' it said 'Matthew V,' the Sermon on the Mount." He paraphrases: "'Who among you by worrying can change a hair on his head?' It spoke to me."

... This uncommon man even manages, when he can find the time, to teach Sunday school. Colbert remembers the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount: "That's being fearless," he says. "Not living in fear is a great gift, because certainly these days we do it so much. And do you know what I like about comedy? You can't laugh and be afraid at the same time--of anything. If you're laughing, I defy you to be afraid."
Wow! That is powerful honesty. Colbert often speaks of his faith and it is obvious on the show that he really knows the Bible. I have written about some of his previous religious comments in the introduction to my book and a column. I am always excited when he addresses religious issues on his show because behind his humor is usually a prodding for Christians to get their act together.


Thanks to Melissa Rogers for pointing out this story.

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