Cultural impact of The Colbert Report

Cultural impact of The Colbert Report

The Colbert Report, which premiered in American cable television on October 17, 2005, has had a cultural impact since its inception, when the show introduced Truthiness as a word. Issues in and references to American and world culture are attributed to the character played by Stephen Colbert, who calls his followers the Colbert Nation.


Congressional response

In response to the "Better Know a District" segment, Rahm Emanuel, then the Democratic Caucus chair, instructed incoming freshmen not to do appearances on the show.[1] Colbert responded by issuing an "Editing Challenge" on his March 26, 2007 broadcast. The challenge directs viewers to the Colbert Nation website to obtain an extended interview with Colbert, conducted by Gwen Ifill, which viewers may then edit to make him look as ridiculous as the representatives.[2] However, The Colbert Report has never followed through on the contest, with not one entry being aired and no further reference to the contest ever being made on the show.


The Colbert Report has created new words. Besides "truthiness", Colbert has coined other terms including "freem", which is "freedom without the do, because I do it all for you."[3] Other words include: "eneagled", a blend of "enabled" and "eagle", thus meaning "to be given the characteristics of an eagle" and "mantasy", meaning male fantasies, such as running away from the wife to become free, a word to which Colbert claims to hold a trademark. Recently, he coined the word "engayify" meaning "to gay it up."[4]

Wikipedia references

Wikiality featured as "The Wørd" on July 31, 2006

Colbert has made repeated references on the show to Wikipedia, which he refers to as his favorite website, generally in "The Wørd" segment. Colbert's first reference to Wikipedia was on the July 31, 2006 broadcast, when "The Word" was Wikiality, defined as the concept that "together we can create a reality that we all agree on—the reality we just agreed on."[5] The premise of wikiality is that reality is what the wiki says it is.[6] He explained that on Wikipedia "any user can change any entry, and if enough users agree with them, it becomes true." He also told his viewers to go onto Wikipedia, in the article elephants, and to edit it so that it would say: "Elephant population in Africa has tripled over the past six months." The suggestion resulted in numerous changes to Wikipedia articles related to elephants and Africa. Editing of the concerned articles was restricted to prevent further edits.

Other "Words" invented relating to Wikipedia include "Wikilobbying", regarding which Colbert explained "when money determines Wikipedia entries, reality has become a commodity", alluding to a case in which Microsoft allegedly hired someone to tamper with Wikipedia,[7] and "Self-determination", where corporations are allowed to act out their fantasies online by editing their own Wikipedia entries. Colbert described Wikipedia as "Second Life for corporations", saying if a corporation wants to pretend to be someone else online, then that is their business.[8]

In another episode, the guest Dan Zaccagnino was discussing his new wiki where readers can share their musical compositions. Colbert compared this to "wiki-wiki-wikipedia."

On May 24, 2007, the guest was Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia. Stephen Colbert called Wikipedia a "battlefield for information", a tool which "brings democracy to information" and moves away from the views of the "elite who study things and got to say what is or is not real". During the interview, Colbert showed a sentence on the screen: "Librarians are hiding something." Wales could not see it, with the implication that Wales could not personally stop a critical mass of individuals from editing a page when he did not know which page was the target. Wales responded that "the interesting thing about The Colbert Report is that Wikipedians watch it."[9]

On June 9, 2008, Colbert mentioned Warren G. Harding as being a "secret negro president", and said that for proof, "the G stands for Gangsta" which he changed on Wikipedia so that he could cite a source.[10] This resulted in various attempts at vandalism to support Colbert's claim.

On June 6, 2011, Colbert encouraged viewers to modify the Wikipedia entry on bells to support Sarah Palin's mistaken claims that they were used during Paul Revere's "midnight ride".

Hungarian bridge campaign

Colbert refers to Miklós Zrínyi in promoting the bridge contest

In 2006, the Ministry of Transport of Hungary launched an online call for public suggestions to name a future motorway bridge over the Danube, just north of Budapest. Ministry officials said the Hungarian Geographical Name Committee would choose from among the three submitted candidates with the most votes, guided by suggestions submitted by "local governments, cartographers, linguists, and other experts".[11] Users offered hundreds of suggestions, among them the "'You Can Go To Bratislava But Not Over This Bridge' Bridge" and the "Chuck Norris Bridge", which led in votes for some time.[12] Colbert noted the effort in his "Tip of the hat, wag of the finger" segment on August 9,[13] and in the following weeks, he continued to ask viewers to vote for him. On August 22, Hungarian news sites reported Colbert had won the first round of voting with 17,231,724 votes,[14] which is 7 million more people than there are in all of Hungary. Hungary changed the voting rules after the members of the Colbert Nation Forums developed a bot to stuff the ballot box, requiring registration to vote in the second phase. That night, Colbert asked his viewers to cease their efforts,[15] and offered apologies,[15] spending a segment honoring Hungary, its history, and its contributions to the world.[16]

On September 14, 2006 Colbert introduced his guest András Simonyi, Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary to the United States. The ambassador presented Mr. Colbert with a declaration certifying him as the winner of the second and final round of voting. The document bore the signatures of Hungarian government officials and the country's official seal.[17] Included in the text, as read by the ambassador, were two important conditions required for the name of the bridge to be made official. First, Colbert must be fluent in Hungarian. Colbert responded by pronouncing the Hungarian name Nicholas Zrinyi (incorrectly referring to Miklós Zrínyi) and híd (meaning 'bridge' in Hungarian); Simonyi quickly certified him as fluent.[18] The second requirement proved more onerous: To have the bridge named after him, Colbert would have to be deceased. Colbert protested, but the ambassador presented him with a Hungarian passport and 10,000 Hungarian Forint (HUF), noting that this would allow Colbert to enter Hungary at any time, without restriction. He also brought attention to the portrait of King St. Stephen, the first King of Hungary, on the 10,000 HUF bill. Finally Simonyi implied that the question of Colbert's ineligibility by virtue of being alive might be resolved if Colbert were to accept an invitation to visit the bridge site in Budapest; Colbert responded by trying to bribe the ambassador with the 10,000 HUF bill.[18] On September 28, 2006, it was announced that the bridge will be named "Megyeri Bridge", although the name did not make it to the second round. According to the Geographical Name Committee, the name was selected because the bridge connects Káposztásmegyer with Békásmegyer.[19]

Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor

In February 2007, Ben & Jerry's unveiled a new ice cream flavor in honor of Stephen Colbert, named Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream. Colbert waited until Easter to sample the ice cream because he "gave up sweets for Lent."[20] Colbert will donate all proceeds to charity through the new Stephen Colbert AmeriCone Dream Fund, which will distribute the money to various causes.[21]

Remix Competitions

Colbert sometimes implicitly suggests that his fans remix various aspects of his show simply by telling them not to remix it. In January 2009, he told viewers to not remix his interview with Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons, which lets authors of creative works share them with the world.[22] This type of fan involvement is similar to the Colbert Green Screen Challenge, which focuses on video content editing.[23]

Running for President in 2008

On October 16, 2007, Colbert announced on The Report that he would be running for president. He had chosen no vice-president, though he was considering choosing Vladimir Putin, Mike Huckabee, or himself as his running mate.[24] Colbert declared that he was only running in South Carolina, his home state, and was contemplating running for both the Republican and Democratic parties as a "favorite son."[25][26] Colbert covered his story in the segment "The Hail to the Cheese Stephen Colbert NachoCheese Doritos 2008 Presidential Campaign Coverage" and promoted his campaign on his special election website, as under law he cannot use[27]

On October 21, 2007, Colbert was interviewed by host Tim Russert on NBC's Meet The Press. Colbert explained why he changed the pronunciation of his name (from "COLE-Bert" to "Cole-BEAR"), demanded to know whether Russert believes that God supports our enemies in Iraq and revealed that he had no interest in winning the Presidency (he just wanted to run).

On November 1, 2007, the executive council of the South Carolina Democratic Party voted 13-3 to keep his name off the ballot and refunded his US$2500 filing fee.[28] By November 5, 2007, Colbert had officially dropped his Presidential bid.[29]

Newly discovered spider species

In 2008, East Carolina University associate professor Jason Bond named a species of trapdoor spider Aptostichus stephencolberti in honor of Stephen Colbert.[30]

Canton insults and apologies

On the July 21, 2008 episode of The Colbert Report, Colbert made a comment about John McCain making a campaign stop in Canton, Ohio, and "not the crappy Canton in Georgia."[31] The comment resulted in a local uproar, with the Canton, Georgia mayor insisting Colbert had never visited the town along with an invitation for him to do so.[31]

On July 30, 2008, Colbert apologized for the story, insisting that he was incorrect and that the real crappy Canton was Canton, Kansas, after which he made several jokes at the Kansas town's expense including calling the town a "shit hole".[32][33][34] Reaction from Mayor Brad Smiley and local residents was negative,[35] while Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius invited Colbert to spend a night in Canton's historic jail.[36]

On August 5, 2008, Colbert apologized to the citizens of Canton, Kansas, he then maintained that he had meant to direct his mock derision towards Canton, South Dakota, by calling it "North Dakota's dirty ashtray" and satirizing the town in song.[37][38]

On August 12, 2008, Colbert once again apologized to his latest comedic target even though local reaction to the insult was fairly mild. Referring to a line from his satirical song, Colbert said that not all the dogs run away from Canton, South Dakota but "some stay and develop a drinking problem."[39] However, as with the previous apologies, he began a new tirade on another Canton. According to Colbert, Canton, Texas is nothing but an "incorporated outhouse" and "one steaming pile of longhorn dung." He then asked the audience if they'd seen the town's tourism video. A video then promptly followed showing a monkey humping another monkey with the words Canton, Texas placed in the corner and an arrow pointing from the name to the monkey on bottom.[40] This jab at the Texas town had been predicted by Governor Sebelius at the end of her July 31, 2008 remarks.[41] In response to Colbert's comments, a Canton, Texas city councilman joked that he wanted Colbert to come there so he could "mash his nose".[42]

On October 28, 2008, Colbert reacted to the news that Barack Obama was campaigning for president in Canton, Ohio — the original good Canton — by saying that he was forced to admit that Canton, Ohio in fact was the real crappy Canton all along.[43]

The Colbert Bump

The "Colbert Bump" is defined, connotatively by the Report, as an increase in popularity of a person (author, musician, politician, etc.) or thing (website, etc.) as a result of appearing as a guest on or (in the case of a thing) being mentioned on the show. For example, if a politician appears on The Colbert Report, they may become more popular with certain voters and thus are more likely to be elected. According to the American Political Science Association, contributions to Democratic politicians rose 40% for 30 days after an appearance on the show.[44] The Mozilla Foundation also experienced a noticeable spike in the download rates of the Firefox browser right after the launch of Firefox 3 was mentioned in the program.[45] Magazines such as GQ, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated have all had sales spikes when Colbert appeared on their covers.[46]

Colbert Bump (alcoholic beverage)

A cocktail called the Colbert Bump was designed during the August 4th, 2009 episode of The Colbert Report by author David Wondrich. The recipe for a Colbert Bump includes one ounce of Cherry Heering liqueur, one and a half ounces of gin, a quarter of an ounce of lemon juice, and a little soda water.[47]

NASA's Node 3

In March 2009, NASA ran an online contest to name the new node of the International Space Station. Colbert encouraged his viewers to write in his name. By the end, 230,539 "Colbert" votes were cast. This beat Serenity, the top NASA choice, by more than 40,000 votes.[48] On April 14, 2009, Astronaut "Suni" Sunita Williams appeared on The Colbert Report, and announced the name of the node to be Tranquility. However, the treadmill the astronauts use to work out on will be named "C.O.L.B.E.R.T." for "Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill" and this will be located in Tranquility.[49]

In the likely event that Node 3 is not named “Colbert” the Mars Society offered to temporarily rename their Mars Desert Research Station “Colbert,” for one week in April.[50]

Persian Gulf Special (Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando 2009 Visit to Baghdad, Iraq)

On March 17, 2009, Colbert announced that the show would be broadcasting from somewhere in the Persian Gulf at some future date. He did not reveal where and when the taping would occur, as that would have presented a security breach. As part of this he made a segment called "Where in the world and when in time is Stephen Colbert gonna be in the Persian Gulf?" In it he offered vague clues to the location via a Press Your Luck board, and described the location being somewhere "sandy" and "packed with troops".[51] He repeatedly alluded to places he might go, but refused to divulge specific details. On the May 4 show, director and writer J. J. Abrams ("LOST," "Alias," Cloverfield," and Star Trek) appeared as a guest, and revealed that he had found out where Colbert was headed and had hidden clues to the location throughout the broadcast, leaving it to the viewers to decipher their meaning.[52] On June 5, 2009, Colbert officially announced that "Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando" would be taping and performing shows in Iraq from June 8 to June 11, 2009, making The Colbert Report the first TV show in USO history to produce a week of shows in a combat zone.[53] The shows were filmed at Camp Victory in the Al-Faw Palace.

Colbert's head was shaved on stage by General Raymond T. Odierno, Commander of the Multinational Force - Iraq, at the videotaped order given by President Barack Obama during the first of four taped performances that were aired June 8, 2009 through June 11, 2009.[54] He wore a civilian two-piece suit, but with a twist: it was tailored from the United States Army's UCP digital camouflage pattern and featured an American Flag and Private rank insignias on the sleeves. Vice President Joe Biden and Senators John McCain and Jim Webb made special appearances, as did former GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin and former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. Actor Tom Hanks was also featured heavily in a pre-recorded segment encouraging viewers to support care packages for the troops. At the start of all four episodes filmed in Iraq, Stephen Colbert carried a golf club on stage to honor Bob Hope's decades-long service, 250 years according to Colbert, for the USO across the world.

U.S. Olympic speed skating sponsorship

On November 2, 2009, Colbert, representing the Colbert Nation, signed a sponsorship agreement on-air with U.S. speedskating executive director Robert Crowley after learning of the loss of the team's prominent sponsor: Dutch bank DSB. The specifics of this sponsorship are unclear.[55] The change of the logo of the U.S. speed skating team's cap, from DSB to Colbert Nation was later shown in the November 12th episode and further episodes. Colbert has also taken aim at Canada, mocking and insulting them, claiming they weren't giving the speed skaters adequate ice time at Olympic rink in Vancouver in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The city of Richmond, where the Olympic Oval is located, had responded with a letter inviting him to be the official ombudsman at the oval for the Olympics, under the condition that he wear the official ombudsman headgear (a pink tuque) at all times.[56]

As a result, Stephen attempted to make the US Olympic team in various sports including speedskating in which the final spot would be his if he were to beat Shani Davis in a 500m race. He lost, but became the Assistant Sport Psychologist to the US Speedskating team (Colbert holds a Doctorate in Fine Arts). This perk also ensured that he would be able to be a journalist covering the 2010 Winter Olympics on his own show, and NBC where he filed speedskating reports during their primetime telecasts with Bob Costas as host. Conversely, Colbert would also feature NBC hosts and reporters covering the Olympics in his coverage of the games, along side Olympic athletes, many of whom were from the US Speedskating team.

Raj Patel's identification as the "Messiah"

Benjamin Creme, self proclaimed esotericist, and owner of Share International magazine; identified the coming "Messiah/Maitreya(or future Buddha)" as having been; born in 1972; traveled to London from India in 1977; been dark-skinned, and having a stutter. Shortly after Raj Patel, the author of the recent book, "The Value of Nothing," appeared on the show, Creme stated the Messiah had appeared on a popular television program in the United States. Patel was identified as such messiah by Creme's followers, as he fulfilled all of Creme's previous predictions. In the March 15, 2010 show, Colbert claimed this was product of a Colbert Bump and called Patel on the telephone to confirm his status as the deity, which the author denied. However, Benjamin Creme had also predicted that the Messiah would deny his status, reinforcing his followers' belief in Patel's divine status.[57][58]

Global Zero

Queen Noor of Jordan was on The Colbert Report to promote Global Zero, an international, non-partisan, initiative to achieve phased, binding, and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons. Colbert signed the Global Zero declaration during the interview. Also, although knighthood does not exist in Jordan, Queen Noor then knighted Stephen Colbert.

2006 White House Correspondents Association Dinner

Stephen Colbert gave a satirical speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in which he criticized the Bush Administration and the news media. The performance earned him praise and scorn in the media.

2010 Congressional Testimony for Migrant Workers

On September 24, 2010, Colbert testified in character before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Security. He was invited by committee chairwoman Zoe Lofgren to describe his experience participating in the United Farm Workers' "Take Our Jobs" program, where he spent a day working alongside migrant workers in upstate New York.[59] At the end of his often-humorous testimony, Colbert broke character in responding to a question from Rep. Judy Chu, D-CA, and explained why he cares about the plight of migrant workers:

“I like talking about people who don't have any power, and this seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work, but don't have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here and at the same time ask them to leave. And that's an interesting contradiction to me. And, you know, 'Whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers,' and these seem like the least of our brothers right now... Migrant workers suffer and have no rights.[60]"

Democratic committee member John Conyers questioned whether it was appropriate for the comedian to appear before Congress and asked him to leave the hearing.[61] Though Colbert offered to depart at the direction of the committee chairwoman, Rep. Lofgren requested that he stay at least until all opening testimony had been completed, whereupon Conyers withdrew his request.[62]

Conservative pundits took aim at his Congress testimony not long after.[63]

"As John Conyers notes, the media and spectators turned out to see whether Colbert would address the panel seriously as an expert on immigration and make the panel a joke, or stay in character and make the panel a bigger joke," - Ed Morrissey, Hot Air. [64]

"Keep Fear Alive" rally

After Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally in Washington, D.C., a user on Reddit suggested that Stephen hold his own Restoring Truthiness rally, and a website and Facebook page for the event were set up overnight.[65] A big announcement was first hinted at by Jon Stewart on September 7,[66] who ended the show with a Moment of Zen supposedly holding a clue about the announcement.[67] On the same day, Stephen acknowledged the online movement. He played a clip of Beck saying the geese at his event were sent by God, and insisted that he would need his own God geese to tell him to hold a rally. After consulting "Geese Witherspoon" and a bottle of Grey Goose vodka, Stephen responded to Jon's announcement with a promise to make "an even bigger counter-announcement."[68]

The next day, Stewart responded to Stephen's announcement by showing what was going on inside his brain,[69] and yet again ended the show with an announcement-related Moment of Zen,[70] as he did the next day.[71]

The following Monday, Stephen finally responded to Stewart, first mocking him for his facial hair, then responding to the "brain-cam" with his own "gut-cam." Stephen then brought up the online rally and how viewers were sending him toy geese and releasing doves outside his studio, finally asking people to stop sending him live animals.[72]

To get Stephen's attention, Reddit users also encouraged people to donate to DonorsChoose, a charity organization that benefits teachers across the country. In less than a day, members of the Colbert Nation raised over $100,000. As of October 28, 2010, Reddit raised more than $500,000.

September 15's Daily Show ended with a toss to Stephen, and both acted coy about their competing announcements. That night's Colbert Report ended with Stephen announcing he would make his big announcement the next day, dropping hints that it will have to do with D.C. and the date October 10, 2010. On September 16, Colbert announced plans to host a 'Keep Fear Alive' rally on the National Mall on October 30, 2010.

The combined Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was duly held on October 30, attracting nearly a quarter of a million participants. As the result of the rally, Metrorail set a new Saturday ridership record of 825,437 trips, as compared to about 350,000 trips on a normal Saturday.[73]

Colbert Super PAC

On March 10, 2011, during a segment on 2012 presidential contender Tim Pawlenty's political action committee, Colbert announced the formation of his own PAC: ColbertPAC. [74] On March 30, Colbert hosted former FEC Chairman Trevor Potter on the program to help him fill out the paperwork for the PAC. [75] On April 14, Colbert revealed that Viacom sent him a letter denying him permission to establish a PAC, but Colbert had Potter back on the show, who explained to Colbert and his audience that as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court case, Super PACs can be formed, which are less restrictive than regular PACs.[76] Finally, on June 30, 2011 the FEC approved Colbert's bid to form a Super PAC. Troubled by the fact that large corporations were not donating to his SuperPAC, on September 29, 2011, [77] Trevor Potter explained that corporations prefer to support political causes when the corporations can remain anonymous. Therefore, he helped Colbert set up a 501(c)(4) Delaware Shell corporation in which donations can be given anonymously without limit and used for political purposes. The name of the shell corporation, "Anonymous Shell Corporation," has Colbert as its sole board member. Donations made to Anonymous Shell Corporation can then be funneled to ColbertPAC without disclosing the ultimate source of the donation. Colbert asked what the difference is between this and money laundering. Potter answered, "It's hard to say."


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  76. ^ Colbert Super PAC - Trevor Potter - The Colbert Report - 4/14/11 - Video Clip | Comedy Central
  77. ^

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