Beliefs Culture Institutions

Stephen Colbert’s ‘Late Show’ catechism: the Catholic comic premieres a …

courtesy Comedy Central

Video courtesy of Salt and Light via YouTube

NEW YORK (RNS) If you can’t get enough of Pope Francis, then how about a little Stephen Colbert?

Yes, the new host of the CBS “Late Show” officially premiered Tuesday night (Sept. 8) as David Letterman’s much-anticipated replacement for the vaunted late night slot. The new sketches, plus big laughs — and perhaps a few duds — kept the television critics busy, at least for a news cycle or two.

For a different side of the multifaceted comic, however, there’s a new interview in which Colbert talks about his Catholicism with the kind of passion and humor that evoke the folksy faith of Francis, who will be making his own debut later this month when he visits the U.S. for the first time.

Colbert has reportedly been moving heaven and earth to try to snag a few minutes with the pontiff, who visits Washington, New York and Philadelphia from Sept. 22-27. That’d be a season-making score, to be sure; yet it may be beyond even Colbert’s impressive influence.

But like Francis, Colbert is no slouch when it comes to evangelization.

READ: Will Pope Francis’ annulment reforms impact U.S. Catholics?

He taught Sunday school at his New Jersey parish and he frequently deployed Catholicism for semi-serious fodder for his previous incarnation as a right-wing blowhard on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central. (And had a Jesuit priest, the Rev. James Martin, as his official chaplain and regular guest.)

Video courtesy of Salt and Light via YouTube

He has appeared with New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who also has a way with humor, to discuss joy and faith. And he has spoken eloquently about the tragedies of his childhood and the way faith sustained him, and continues to do so.

“(M)y context for my existence, is that I am here to know God, love God, serve God, that we might be happy with each other in this world and with Him in the next — the catechism,” he said in a recent cover story for GQ magazine. “That makes a lot of sense to me. I got that from my mom. And my dad. And my siblings.”

In this latest sit-down, with the Rev. Thomas Rosica, English-language attache to the Vatican press office and head of the Toronto-based Salt and Light media network, Colbert’s answers range from the silly (Favorite saint: “St. Arugula … that’s the saint I worship. Okay? Delicious!”) to the serious: how the Holy Spirit forms one’s conscience.

“I should have said this in Latin, what I just said,” the comedian quips as he waxes theological at one point.

During the course of the conversation with Rosica, Colbert cites the poet e. e . cummings, John Milton, Carl Sagan, St. Anselm (yes, the ontological argument for God’s existence), and St. Thomas Aquinas.

The interview will be broadcast in full on the Salt and Light channel on Sunday (Sept. 13) at 8 p.m. EDT.

And what would Colbert ask Francis if he snagged an interview?

“I would ask him how love leads him to joy, or does love lead him to joy?” Colbert says. And he would ask him about being “a fool for Christ” — a role he sees Francis playing, as well as Colbert himself.

Video courtesy of Salt and Light via YouTube

READ: Pope Francis will find the U.S. Catholic Church bleeding money

There’s that, and much more, both profound and funny. For example:

“Doing something joyfully doesn’t make something any easier, it only makes it better. And, also it makes it communal — that we’re all doing it together. When you work in fear, or when you work in distress, you often feel alone. But jokes, laughter, humor, joy, whatever you want to call it … it connects people. And as I said earlier, what do we want to be? Not alone.”

“Faith ultimately can’t be argued, faith has to be felt, and hopefully you can still feel your faith fully, and let your mind have a logical life of its own and they do not defy each other but complement each other … Logic itself will not lead me to God. But my love of the world and my gratitude toward it will. So hopefully I can use my mind to make my jokes and not deny my love for God at the same time.”

“I think you have to make a choice to perceive Christ in the people around you, and to love them without fear that anything will be taken from you in the gift that you give them of your own love.”


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


Click here to post a comment

  • Excellent! An informed Catholic and a comic. I hope he can speak with Pope Francis when he comes in a few weeks.
    The Catholic faith, rightly lived and understood leads to joy, a joy that, “the world cannot take away” from the believer.

  • “Faith can’t be argued..”

    ….said Osama Bin Laden.

    I’m disappointed in Colbert. Not because he is a believer, but because he is defending “faith” as if it is benign.

  • I like his statement of being a “fool for Christ.” Jesus wants us to share everything with him, not only our needs, but all our works, joys, sufferings, and sorrows. When we share all with Him, he will share all with us, especially eternal ecstasy.

  • Colbert has belied his “liberal” credentials by appearing with Dolan several times as his uncritical supporter. Dolan tried to cheat sex abuse victims out of a just compensation and, as prelate of Wall Street, is the most powerful man working behind the scenes in the religious right in denying women adequate healthcare and gays their civil rights. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Colbert gets rewarded with an appearance with the pope for his “faithfulness” and because this pope never misses an opportunity to score more PR points as a “regular” guy.

  • Obviously, Colbert is trapped in the box of the NT. Too bad as there are many easy ways to escape to the realities of the 21st century.

  • It’s sad that such vitriol on the part of religious people in online comments doesn’t surprise me any more. You may not have anyone looking over your shoulder when you write such nasty comments, but God sees. That should be enough to keep your sinfulness in check at least now and then, don’t you think?

  • The thing is, the most vicious and spiteful people posting here are the ones who claim to speak for Gawd,” Most are just not very bright but very angry, and usually at someone other than those who oppress them. It’s vogue with this crowd of whiners to attack “Hollywood” values, as if Ronald Reagan, who left his first wife to marry his already pregnant second wife, wasn’t the epitome of “Hollywood,” or even Sara Palin, the most talented grifter in the pack these days, weren’t part and parcel of it.

  • It’s a shame atheists’ only argument is “we’re smart, you’re dumb,” otherwise they’d be tolerable.

    I don’t watch TV and have never seen Colbert’s show but I wish him well. It seems if he’s angering both the christofascists and the atheist fundamentalists he must be doing something right.

  • @GNS,

    “It’s a shame atheists’ only argument is “we’re smart, you’re dumb,””

    That isn’t our argument at all.
    And Why do you see yourself as dumb? Or are you an Atheist who doesn’t fit your own description?

    Atheists ask questions which the religious wouldn’t dare. We are not smarter than the religious – we have simply lost all fear of gods and we are immune to religious lectures.

  • Greg1, the whole Jesus story that you keep promoting here, the foundation of your crazy Christian superstitions, is a steaming pile of nonsense out of the gate. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn’t do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus’ death a “sacrifice”, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic “god” that you’ve made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • @Max
    For a non-believer Dude, you spend an awful lot of time on religious websites. I still pray for you since our last encounter over a year ago. Peace.

  • “…If you can’t get enough of Pope Francis…” As a cradle Catholic, I’ve had more of Il Papa than I can stomach…

  • Please do not pray for me.
    Instead, think for yourself.

    If you want to help the world, use your brain for thinking
    instead of for surrendering to primitive philosophies.

  • Evan, this is not a religious website, it is a website of religion-related news. There’s a difference.

    As an atheist humanist I’m motivated to imagine and strive for a better world without religion. Religion ruins lives and makes the world a worse, more dangerous place. I like to warn others away from the dangers of religion. I can’t speak for Max, but that’s on reason why I subscribe to this and similar websites.

2019 NewsMatch Campaign: This Story Can't Wait! Donate.