Even a senior news analyst, such as The Daily Show's Stephen Colbert, can be confused by recent world events. Like, for instance, NBC deciding not to pick up the pilot he co-wrote with Jon Stewart for its fall schedule. "They said, 'We love it, this is exactly what we want and we're not gonna make it,'" Colbert says. "So it was an entirely pleasurable experience... except for the part about not making it." At least his other recent collaboration, the novel Wigfield (Hyperion), had a happier ending. Co-written with his Strangers with Candy cohorts Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, Wigfield follows a self-important, first-time author searching for a story in the book's titular town. The satirical tale unfolds through interviews with 20 inspired characters, which the trio currently brings to life in an adapted stage show on their book tour. Here, Colbert plays the quirky role of himself.
TV Guide Online: The book's "author," Russell Hokes, struggles to fill his 50,000-word quota. Was his inability to write a novel at all based on yours?
Stephen Colbert: Absolutely. The first day we wrote on it, we had a real inspiration. We wrote 2,500 words, and we thought, "S--t, we're probably about done." [The book] was over a year late, which is evidently fine in the writing world.
TVGO: You suggested Wigfield be loosely based on Jefferson, West Virginia, a town you had actually visited for The Daily Show. Why?
Colbert: 'Cause there's a lot of meat on that chicken, and all we did was take the wings for The Daily Show. Jefferson was a town incorporated only three years previously, and the new mayor had run on the platform of "Elect me, and I'll resolve this town" because it was just the worst place in the world, like Bhopal in Appalachia. The city hall is in a strip club. The sheriff's office is in a head shop. I mean, this is the town.
TVGO: So what happened?
Colbert: She won, and the town fought her. (Laughing) But that's all just character and flavor. The story in the book came from Paul and I literally sitting in a room for two years. We would send material to Amy and say, "Is this making you laugh?" because she's the one person who thinks like us.
TVGO: The three of you have been collaborating for 15 years, since you first met at Chicago's famed Second City. What happens if one of you has a bad idea?
Colbert: We point, and laugh, and say, "That stinks." (Laughing) The thing is, I did straight theater for years in Chicago, and if you messed up, it was very quiet when you got backstage. Everyone tried not to look at you. But at Second City, the audience could hear them mocking you from offstage while you were still in the scene and it was so much healthier. It gave you the freedom to fail. And that's how we treat each other. We can all both trust and attack viciously. It's a very loving, loving, loving, hostile environment.
TVGO: Speaking of hostile climates, Jon Stewart already has a book to his name. And fellow correspondent Mo Rocca just landed a deal for one. How will your sales compare?
Colbert: Ah, Mo Rocca can bite me. I wish him all the luck in the world, but come on, now. What I wrote is Joycean in comparison. And Jon? Cute effort. That's all I have to say. Can I tell you what my Amazon sales rank was yesterday? Can we just get into that?
TVGO: You really do have a lot of great people praising the book on its back cover Jon, Janeane Garofalo, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tina Fey. Was there anyone you wanted to get, but couldn't?
Colbert: Well, Wolf Blitzer. He's a fan of The Daily Show, but just when I needed a quote from him, this little thing called "the war" started. I called CNN, and his assistant said he brought [the book] to Qatar with him. I'm like, "I doubt I'll be getting a Blitzer blurb."
TVGO: The Daily Show got so much press for its own coverage of the war in Iraq, but none of you really want the show to be seen as a political player.
Colbert: Because the only way it is in any way influential is by being comedic. Satire is nice, and every so often it can make you think, but it's entertainment. You have to be willing to do a joke about the Dong missiles of Korea one day, and just make jokes about the word "dong" because there's nothing political to say. Then, the next night, you can get into the Supreme Court executing the retarded, and you've got some juice to do it. We comment on the real political events we are not a political event.
TVGO: Now that you've got your novel, and you almost had a network sitcom, how long will you stay with The Daily Show? I'm thinking of Brian Unger and Beth Littleford, and...
TVGO: Exactly. Is there a curse for Daily Show correspondents who take the leap too soon?
Colbert: Listen, I love it here. I really do. At the 2000 election, it occurred to me that this is one of the best jobs in America right now. I mean, really, regardless of the fact that I have three kids, there's always work to be had out there somewhere. But I would be hard-pressed to imagine what I would enjoy more than this. And I have the key to the senior analyst washroom, which is just so spacious.