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Stephen Colbert and the church of Late Night

Now that Stephen Colbert is slate to host The Late Show, what can we expect for late night religious coverage?

Colbert rising from the flames - Photo by DonkeyHotey via Flickr (
Colbert rising from the flames - Photo by DonkeyHotey via Flickr (

Colbert rising from the flames – Photo by DonkeyHotey via Flickr (

It was a sad day when I learned that my longtime celebrity crush, David Letterman, was going to be retiring in 2015. Letterman has seen The Late Show through 21 seasons, and his would be some pretty big shoes to fill. While the speculation swirled about who would replace him — Tina Fey? Louis CK? Amy Poehler? — one man’s name didn’t come up much at all. But it is Stephen Colbert who will step into Letterman’s shoes next year, and while it would have been great to add a woman or a person of color to the all white-male lineup of late-night hosts on primetime television, Colbert will undoubtedly bring something unique to the mix.

In the last few years, there are few people who have brought the topic of religion into the mainstream like Stephen Colbert. He’s the country’s most famous Sunday school teacher who also happens to be one of our top-rated television hosts, and many wonder how his transition to late-night will affect his ability to use the satire for which he has become so famous. That satire has largely been the vehicle through which he has entered into conversations about religion and religious culture in America.

For example: This clip from The Daily Show’s “Even Stevphen,” featuring the Stevphens Carrell and Colbert debating “Islam vs. Christianity: Which is right?” Colbert, on the side of Christianity: “We know every word [of the Bible] is true because the Bible says that the Bible is true and if you remember from earlier in this sentence, every word in the Bible is true.”

Or here, where Colbert acknowledges the overwhelming oppression of the gay agenda when a gay orgy shows up on his grilled cheese sandwich, where he usually only sees images of Jesus. (Grilled cheese at 3:20.)

Colbert gave testimony on the treatment of immigrant farm workers back in 2010, and remained mostly in character throughout. But toward the end, he gave a very real and impassioned (and very religiously-based) argument for putting a set of legal protections in place for these vulnerable workers. When asked why he was interested in the topic, Colbert replied, “I like talking about people who don’t have any power…we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave…these seem like the least of our brothers, right now.”

There are a number of other fantastic religion moments on Colbert Report. This interview with Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, who Colbert interviewed when he was suggesting new religions for President Obama, is delightful and informative. “Do you get a lot of converts?” Colbert asked. “We don’t convert anyone,” says Mysorekar. Colbert seems stunned. Many of his conversations with Father Jim Martin, the Report’s chaplain, are worth watching, including this one about income inequality and the Pope.

It may be news to some, but the Bible contains many accounts of laughter. “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy,” we read in Job. Or in Genesis, when the elderly Sarah gives birth to Isaac and says, “‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’” You don’t have to be Catholic (or even Christian, or even religious) to appreciate the way that Colbert understands how faith and laughter go together, and how a little of the latter can help us not to take ourselves so seriously. I, for one, am hopeful that we will see more of the ways that faith and laughter go together, even into the wee hours of the morning.