I am America (and So Can You!)
By Stephen T. Colbert (and the writers of “The Colbert Report”)
Published by Hatchette Audio
Performed by Stephen Colbert and various others
Stephen Colbert is currently one of the most successful comedians on TV, but I think you really need to be a fan to enjoy this book. I do enjoy watching his show “The Colbert Report” much of the time, but there are evenings the satiric portrayal of the egotistic, arch-conservative non-thinker gets on my nerves. I want to scream, “Enough already, I get it! What other character can you play?”
In some fairness, Mister Colbert has lent his vocal talents to animated characters and has played quite a few roles in a variety of shows and movies. In short he is an actor and like all actors, he has had to work his way up. But now he has found his niche in aping the Cult of Ego politicians that exist on both sides of the Congressional aisle. If his act did some good by shaking sense into the jerks on Capitol Hill, then I would say “Keep it up and never stop until they do.” But Mister Colbert is essentially preaching to the choir. The ones who need to see themselves in his mirror are not paying attention and never will.
So what are we left with? Well, he has several recurring skits that are amusing to watch and I would say he is batting maybe .500 in his interview skills. That would be a good record in Baseball, but in interviews it means only about half of them work. The problem is that he almost never breaks character while the camera is on, this means that no matter who is being interviewed, the interviewer is trying to turn everything into either an arch-conservative endorsement or self-aggrandizement. It was funny the first few weeks, but it has been years. It is possible the character should have been left on John Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” It worked very well as a nightly feature, but a whole show of it… well, I think he managed to keep it fresh far longer than most could have and in many ways it is still fresh, but it is also far too predictable.
It is rare that his take on a story or one of his interviews surprises me and I admit I am sick of seeing him prance around the stage every time a guest comes out as though the applause is really for him – that joke stopped being funny on his second show… On the plus side, he still covers and exposes news in a way that the real reporters seem to miss, but that is the show, what about the book?
Stephen Colbert’s whole act is about… well, I know he is playing a part and that he is not really the character he portrays on the show, but the character has the same name, so for now let us call the character “Ego.” That, I think is a nice classical way of handling it. The whole act is about “Ego.” Everything “Ego” does is self-aggrandizement. It is parody. It is satire, but it has also gone beyond the bounds of good taste on numerous occasions. Well, “Ego” is like that. I hate to say it, but it is part of his charm.
So “Ego” has been pushing boundaries (and breaking fourth walls) for nearly sixteen years between his show and that of John Stewart. In that time, he has run for political office, had a module on the ISS named after him, invented a word (Truthiness) and gotten it incorporated in real dictionaries, had his portrait on display in the National Portrait Gallery (on a temporary basis) and quite a bit more by campaigning on his show and getting his fans to back him. That is pretty heady stuff especially since any and all of those campaigns could have been a win regardless of whether they had worked – either way it is grist for his comedic mill.
And he has written books, also in character. I am America (and So Can You!) was the first of them. It is kind of like watching the show, but without the video aspect, without the interviews and (thankfully) without the commercials. It also does not stop after thirty minutes. Yes, this is the Energizer Bunny of the Colbert World; it just keeps going and going and going.
I learned fairly early on in my own attempts at writing (and, no, I will not claim I am a great writer, but some things ought to be obvious even to a hack like me) that there are many differences between writing comedic and dramatic pieces. The timing and pacing of stories are very different as is the length of piece each might support. If comedies seem to be shorter for the most part it is because a joke requires perfect timing and the story cannot drag or your readers will miss the jokes, or else they will eventually get tired of laughing. It is a good author who knows when to stop telling jokes.
This book is really too long. I am not sure who to blame, since these days any successful celebrity is expected to write a big long book, and publishers want them as long as possible, probably because they are going to charge a bundle for them anyway or maybe the more pages they get between the covers the more seriously they hope reviewers will take it? But this one really is too long. You may want to read one chapter at a time and then go to another book for a bit. That should help.
The same applies to the audiobook. This is a very long performance and, yes, this is a performance, not a reading. So do not feel shy about listening to it for only a few minutes at a time. That really helps keep it fresh, because if you listen to this for hours at a time, you need to be an absolute Colbert fan to still be laughing at the end.
Some of the jokes are not all that funny; there is a lot of stuff that I can describe as having been “mailed in,” but there is also some pretty good material and Colbert and his cast do a fairly good job of presenting it. The book is very funny at times and listening to Colbert, et alia, present it can be a lot of fun, but sometimes you have to wait for the laughs. Taking the audiobook in small bites definitely helps.
So, should you read or listen to this? Are you a fan of Stephen Colbert? Do you watch his show at least two or three times a week, even when it is in reruns? If so, yes, definitely, you will love the book. Do you watch Colbert just because the rest of Television is a vast wasteland or because John Stewart comes on afterward? Then maybe small doses would be best for you, or else let a friend buy it and just read it on his or her coffee table when you visit.