May 28, 2023
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Comedy Central anchor masters the art of publishing

You know a person is planning to run for president when he releases a book. John F. Kennedy released “Profiles in Courage” in 1956. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and he was commander in chief a few years later. Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has already released two books. Now add Stephen Colbert to this list with his new manifesto, “I Am America (And So Can You!)” ($26.99), which preceeded Colbert’s announcement of his candidacy for president a couple of weeks ago. Though he has yet to receive a Pulitzer for his work, Colbert is the first recipient of the Stephen T. Colbert Award for Literary Excellence.

The fake medal for the award, stamped proudly on the cover, is one of many ways Colbert tries to woo nonreaders with his new book. Colbert proudly declares that he did not write this book. He dictated it directly into a microcassette recorder over a three-day weekend — most likely while draped in an American flag, lying on a bearskin rug with a roaring fire in the background, comprised mainly of burning old issues of “The Nation” and “Mother Jones” magazines. As he declared in his brilliantly infamous address at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Colbert, like President George W. Bush, has never been a fan of books. Books have facts. And facts have a well-known liberal bias.

Of course that’s just the character Colbert talking. The real Colbert, along with the talented writing staff of “The Colbert Report,” surely spent more than a three-day weekend putting this book together, and their efforts are on hilarious display on every page. Whereas Jon Stewart and company parodied a standard civics textbook with their mega-bestselling “America: The Book,” Colbert’s book takes aim at the cottage industry of television and radio pundits releasing political diatribes. In that regard, the book “nails it,” as Colbert would say, right down to the faux-smug look of self-satisfaction on the author’s face on the cover.

Much of the book reads like an extended version of “The Word,” the nightly segment on “The Colbert Report,” where Colbert essentially goes off on a rant about whatever is bothering him that day. In the book, those rants are divided up into general topics like family, religion, higher education, the liberal media and those wacky freedom-hating leftos in Hollywood, among others.

Colbert has a lot of fun with the formatting confines of the written word. Just as the “The Word” segments on his show have extra jokes written on the side of the screen to add (or humorously detract) from whatever he is talking about, the book features constant writing in the margins, footnotes and, often, footnotes within the footnotes.

Sometimes these jokes in the margin serve as the inner voice of reason for Colbert, but more often than that, it’s just an extra space to cram in another joke. It’s as though Colbert is providing a running commentary on his own book as you are reading it. In a typical exchange, his chapter on religion states that the Quakers were good for only two things: oatmeal and Richard Nixon. In the margins, Colbert adds, “Actually, the rice cakes aren’t bad either.”

He saves his most savage insights for the media, where he is both highly enthusiastic and unwittingly participant at the same time. He describes NPR as “Nader Presidential Radio” and only admits to reading the “New York Times” “to know thine enemy.” Colbert is gracious enough to concede that there are still a few journalists who aren’t registered sex offenders. They all work for FOX News, naturally.

Colbert, the character or the real guy, has a love/hate relationship with FOX News. If his show was not such brilliant farce, it would be right at home on the network, wedged between “Hannity and Colmes” and Greta Van Susteren perhaps. Remember that Colbert’s persona is also based largely on another FOX News personality, “Papa Bear” Bill O’Reilly. Now, Colbert has succeeded in crafting a novel as hilarious as his are. Only O’Reilly was never trying to be funny.

“I Am America (And So Can You)” by Stephen Colbert received four out of four stars.