Colbertian Studies: WaPo Highlights Academia’s Obsession with Comedian

Scholarly papers examine Colbert’s theology, philosophy, politics.

Observers on the right and left have, for different reasons, long lamented that Comedy Central has become the main source of news for young people. But one group thinks the phenomenon is just fine. The academic left considers comedian Stephen Colbert an object of serious and perhaps even obsessive study. 

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote an excellent piece on July 9, examining the academic world’s “unsettling” obsession with comedian Stephen Colbert. Farhi describes Colbert-related studies as the “academic cult of Colbert,” writing: “Yet ever since Colbert’s show, “The Colbert Report,” began airing on Comedy Central in 2005, these ivory tower eggheads have been devoting themselves to studying all things Colbertian.” 

Farhi checked off a list of Colbert-related academic work, including forays into philosophy, politics, and media studies. Perhaps the most unsettling example of Colbert-mania Farhi notes is the graduate paper: “The Wørd Made Fresh: A Theological Exploration of Stephen Colbert,” published in Concepts (“an interdisciplinary journal of graduate studies”), Villanova University, 2010.

The academic left’s obsession with Colbert is unsurprising. Colbert is notorious for venturing into the political sphere and attacking conservatives – he once called paraplegic conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer “Count Chocula.” On his comedy show, “The Colbert Report,” he plays the part of what Farhi calls “an egomaniacal right-wing gasbag” pundit.

Colbert’s mockery of the current American political system is evident. He created his own Super PAC, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” in order to demonstrate how easy it is to manipulate current campaign finance rules. He even testified before Congress concerning immigration and migrant farm workers, mockingly arguing: "I don't want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, sliced by a Guatemalan and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian." 

Colbert’s animosity towards conservatives won him starry-eyed praise from the academics Farhi cited. Penn State professor Sophia McClennen gushed: “Colbert deserves to be held among the greatest satirists in American history.” Media studies professor Geoffrey Baym argued: “you could argue that the emergence of satire news at this level is an important phenomenon that I still don’t think we understand.”

Academia is notorious for advancing liberal themes under the guise of “study” and “research.” History professor Joseph Ellis declared that the Tea Party and modern conservatism was a “repudiation of all he [George Washington] stood for. Even history textbooks skew events in order to inculcate a liberal perspective.

Farhi wrote: “our so-called universities are in big trouble, and not just because attending one of them leaves you with more debt than the Greek government.” Farhi’s writing might be tongue-in-cheek, but it’s difficult to disagree with his assessment.