Stephen Colbert, as a real human being, is useless to us. Yes, that's a very selfish thing to say, but we all know it's true. When he's stepped out of character in the past for interviews on Fresh Air or Meet the Press, it's mildly interesting, but it's interesting in the same way that it was interesting to see Worf from Star Trek without his makeup. Googleable, but somehow unsettling. Even worse, while he's taking a two-week sabbatical from The Colbert Report to become "real Stephen," helping out on his sister's run for a South Carolina congressional seat, he's missed out on covering a story tailor-made for the Colbert character: Obama's cameo as Satan on the History Channel.
Last Sunday the History Channel rolled out another episode of its smash-hit series The Bible, introducing a spooky Obama-doppleganger in the role of Satan. Producers of the show emphatically denied intentionally creating this President of Darkness scandal, but by then it was already too late. On Monday morning Twitter exploded in all directions, with Glenn Beck being one of the first to lead the charge.
And it wasn't long before the sandwich-board doomsday prophets took to the Internet and AM radio for their we-told-you-he-was-the-antichrist jubilee. "I think God guided the hand of the makeup artist and blinded the eyes of everybody on the movie set while it was being recorded," said Christian radio host Rick Wiles. "And the spiritual blinders were removed Sunday night when the program was broadcast nationally on the History Channel."
Forget the new pope, forget Japan's nuclear plant being ousted by a dead rat, this is the story that makes us long for The Colbert Report to return to the airwaves. It's very selfish of Colbert to drop his satirical-persona and put his show on hold merely for the sake of his sister and all South Carolinians when comedy needs him more. There are simply no other late-night comedians with the chops to bite into the sociological casserole that is this story.
Just look at the paltry zingers served up by these three big-network jokesters:
Jay Leno: Actually, you know, they considered Dick Cheney for the role of Satan, but then they deemed him too evil.
David Letterman: I thought, 'Well that's funny, because if President Obama was actually Satan, then the Republicans might actually deal with him.
Jimmy Fallon: I thought he looked more like Bob Dylan doing an Eminem impression.
This isn't even the first racial controversy connected to The Bible. Huffington Post contributor Reverend Wil Gafney had already accused the TV show of suspiciously casting light-skinned actors in all the heroic roles, while going a few shades darker for the villains.
Clearly, the only way to comfortably address the humor of this situation is with satire.
Stephen Colbert could defend the argument that many of the Afro-Asiatic characters of the historical bible were, somehow, actually white (or at least the good ones were), and that History Channel make-up artists are, in fact, winking at us with an urgent prophecy about Obamacare being the Mark of the Beast. Colbert the fictional-pundit can say these awful things without controversy, while Colbert the human being can only help his sister defeat that guy with the Argentinian mistress.
Just like the Internet crazies who refuse to give up on the idea that Obama genuinely is Beelzebub incarnate (seriously, this was going on long before the History Channel got involved), I have a difficult time seeing Stephen Colbert as anything but a hard-right, conspiracy-theory Republican with a messiah complex -- not this mild-mannered Democrat we recently saw on CNN. I want the cock-eyebrowed crazy asking about Pat Robertson's protein-shake on The O'Reilly Factor. I want the in-character Colbert who testified before Congress about immigrant farm workers, saying: "The obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables. And if you look at the recent obesity statistics, you'll see that many Americans have already started."
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I know he'll be back after only one more week, but even his temporary absence proves that without media satire, we have very few ways to effectively address race or religion within comedy. Though even if the unthinkable should happen and Stephen Colbert decides to permanently embrace reality, at least we'll still have print copies of The Onion readily available on the stands in Colorado. Oh, no. They did?