PLAYBOY INTERVIEW: STEPHEN COLBERT
One of the most controversial political attack ads of the year didn’t originate with an actual candidate or political party. It came from Stephen Colbert. Or more accurately, “Stephen Colbert,” his satirical alter ego. The ad was funded by Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, a super PAC formed by Colbert as part of his “exploratory committee to lay the groundwork for [his] possible candidacy for president of the United States of South Carolina.” The super PAC ad suggested, in no uncertain terms, that presidential hopeful Mitt Romney might be a serial killer. “He’s Mitt the Ripper,” the voice-over declared. When asked about the ads by George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, Colbert (or “Colbert”) claimed ignorance. “I had nothing to do with that ad,” he said. Technically he was following to the letter the rules of super PACs, which are allowed, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling, to raise unlimited funds for attack ads without being directly connected to a campaign or candidate.
“I don’t know if Mitt Romney is a serial killer,” he told Stephanopoulos. “That’s a question he’s going to have to answer.… I do not want any untrue ads on the air that could in any way be traced back to me.”
It was brilliant political satire—earning Colbert a prestigious Peabody Award, his second—that crossed into the realm of performance art. Colbert mocked the system from within, using himself as a comedic straw man. Although Colbert’s main gig is behind a desk as host of Comedy Central’s faux pundit news show The Colbert Report, it wasn’t the first time he’d blurred the line between satirist and subject. Colbert has mocked President George W. Bush to his face at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, testified before the House Subcommittee on Immigration (where he called for Americans “to stop eating fruits and vegetables”) and co-hosted with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart a political rally on the National Mall that attracted an estimated 215,000 participants.