"I Am America (And So Can You!)" by Stephen Colbert Grand Central, 240 pp., $26.99 Stephen Colbert has to hate himself right now. After all, he has...
“I Am America (And So Can You!)”
by Stephen Colbert
Grand Central, 240 pp., $26.99
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Stephen Colbert has to hate himself right now. After all, he has just written a book — that evil totem of intellectuals who read in their ivory-tower lairs overlooking the Hudson or the Hollywood Hills while plotting ways to warp the souls of people in flyover country. The only thing more surprising would have been if he had written a book about bears, America’s godless killing machines.
Colbert acknowledges as much in the opening paragraph of “I Am America (And So Can You!)”, a new book in which he brings his mock-Bill O’Reilly Comedy Central personality to the printed page: “I am no fan of books,” he declares. “I want you to know that this is the first book I’ve ever written, and I hope it’s the first book you’ve ever read. Don’t make a habit of it.”
Of course, Colbert’s claim that he wrote this book is as much part of the enjoyable sham as is the righteously red-state, right-wing shtick that’s made his TV show, “The Colbert Report,” such water-cooler fodder since it debuted in 2005. The first page acknowledges a list of 14 writers and/or editors, only one of whom is Colbert.
So, anyone looking for the real deal about Colbert the man needs to go elsewhere — though he does bring a few things from his “real life,” such as his Catholicism, into his fake one. But if you’re looking for more “truthiness” about Colbert the fake TV windbag, this book’s for you.
Much of the book and some of the jokes feel familiar. It’s often even written to echo Colbert’s vocal cadence, complete with “moving ons” and “pick a sides.” But there’s more than enough here to keep the faithful quoting him through the holidays, such as his jab at CBS and “60 Minutes”:
“The Tiffany network is responsible for the perennial Sunday Night Post-Game buzzkill, ’60 Minutes.’ Morley Safer and his team of aged jackals present what I believe is the worst kind of investigative journalism — the kind with investigations. On the other hand, I like the innovations that Katie Couric has brought to ‘The CBS Evening News,’ especially the innovation of having viewers turn elsewhere for news.”
The book is interactive. It comes complete with a sex quiz and a page of stickers in a chapter on the elderly (“to remind you when you agreed with me most”), and it sends readers to www.colbertnation.com to click on a “religionizer” button.
Even with such extras, “I Am America” can’t equal the televised Colbert, because much of his appeal rests on his mannerisms and intonations. Those who read the book but haven’t watched the show won’t have Colbert’s voice running through their heads, so the book may sometimes fall flat.
Still, the Colbert conceit is more than just a clever persona delivering broadsides at political and pop culture. While it’s most obviously a send-up of O’Reilly and crew — Colbert calls Sean Penn, Barbra Streisand, Tim Robbins and Kirsten Dunst “the four horsemen of the Apoca-Left” — it’s also a broader slam on ego-stoked media commentators and celebrity in general.
For all the work he seems to put into keeping a distance between Colbert the man and Colbert the satirist, his true feelings sneak out in the final pages. As an appendix, he includes his much talked-about 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech in which, as his TV persona, he skewered President Bush with parody posing as praise.
“I stand by this man because he stands for things,” Colbert said. “Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares.”
As a peek behind his “Faux Reilly” mask, it was a smart way to end “I Am America.”