Two days after we got home from hospital with Iris, Comedy Central started a new show with Stephen Colbert from the Daily Show. Much like with our newborn child, I was excited though not sure what to expect. And again, much like Iris, the first couple of years were OK, but still something I was trying to figure out. Where the Daily Show was a host of correspondents, Colbert was just one guy. Doesn’t that get old? So I only watched the show occasionally for the first 2-3 years.
And then I had open heart surgery.
I’ll never forget being in a hospital bed the day after the surgery and being miserable. I was completely immobile, bored out of my mind, and feeling incredibly sorry for myself. I mean, how could I be so unlucky? It happened at the worst time. My company was in the middle of acquisition talks. Cherise was pregnant with Robyn while her dad had just passed only two months earlier. It didn’t help that I had a lot of idle time to feel sorry for myself. I wasn’t supposed to do work, so no laptop or internet. I had a book, but I was in no mood to read. I tried listening to music, but that did no good. I flipped through all the channels on TV, but I really wasn’t excited about soap operas or the latest Jerry Springer. Going channel after channel, I think I was starting to annoy the other patient with whom I shared a room. I finally found Comedy Central and I saw an episode of Daily Show was just finishing up, so I watched the “Moment of Zen”. And then came Colbert and I had nothing better to do but watch.
And it changed everything.
I laughed harder in those 30 minutes than in the previous three weeks. I laughed so hard that it actually hurt my sternum where the surgeon had cracked me open to operate, but I couldn’t stop. By the end of the episode, you couldn’t take the smile off my face. For the rest of that day, any time I started to feel down, I’d remember a part of the show and start cracking up. I even watched it again when they aired a repeat–and it was even funnier the second time around. There’s something so life-affirming about laughter that I snapped out of whatever funk I was in. Forget feeling sorry for myself. I was alive. Alive to see my daughter grow up. Alive to see Robyn be born. And alive to feel the pleasure and pain that comes from life. “Laughter is the best medicine” may be the oldest cliche in the book, but for one day, I finally understood what that expression meant. The nurses insisted I take Vicodin or Oxycontin, but I took Colbert instead.
And so, for the last six years, I’ve made it a point to watch Colbert as he just got funnier and funnier. I kept a few episodes stored away on Tivo for those days that were a little tougher and I needed a dose of his bizarre, yet brilliant, humor. Rollerblading with Bryan Cranston to Daft Punk. Impromptu singing with Harry Belafonte. Gently eviscerating Mary Matalin. Sparring with Bill O’Reilly. Feuding with Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien. Using Michael Stipe of REM as his Ed MacMahon/Elf on a Shelf. Leg wrestling with congressional representatives. Trying to pronounce Munchma Quci. I went to the rally in DC. I watched the Christmas specials. I won’t go as far as to say he saved my life, but he certainly made it that much sweeter. When it was announced that he’d be taking over the Late Show on CBS, I knew what that meant. The constant in my life that’s been around as long as my first-born would no longer be there. Perhaps that’s why I felt an extra twinge of emotion when watching the finale last night. I spent the last three years working for a set of TV networks with the expectation that well-done entertainment can have a profound effect on individuals. I don’t think anyone in entertainment has had a more profound effect on my life than Stephen Colbert.
And so to Stephen Colbert, the bufoonish character who truly made TV worth watching, I will miss you more than you can imagine. And to Stephen Colbert, the ultra-talented actor who will succeed the legend that is David Letterman, I assure you I will watch you wherever you go and be eternally grateful for the gift you gave me that afternoon in a hospital bed six years ago and the laughter you’ve given me since.