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Stephen Colbert on his Comedy Central alter ego

‘I began to feel like I was stumbling downhill with an armful of bottles,’ he says

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Scott Kowalchyk/CBS

Stephen Colbert has finally moved on from the character he played for almost a decade on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.

In a recent interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, the Late Show host, who took over the role from David Letterman in 2015, says he’s finally starting to feel comfortable behind the desk.

“It took me a little while to realize that the character was not in danger of re-emerging,” Colbert, who has started addressing politics on his show, told Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “It took me almost half a year to realize … that you can have a highly opinionated, highly topical show as yourself and not essentially fall back into the basket of The Colbert Report.” 

He continued, “Now I have no qualms about being sharp and satirical and highly opinionated and saying whatever’s on my mind as quickly as I can.”

On The Colbert Report, Colbert played a caricature of broadcast news television pundits who believed how they felt about an issue was more important than the actual facts — a syndrome he called “truthiness.” However, after a while, Colbert found that he no longer wanted to play this extremely right-wing character.

“I thought maybe I would make some big mistake with the character because he would say terrible things. And I got away with some of the terrible things he would say or do because it was all filtered through his mask, but if I didn’t maintain the mask, it would just be me being terrible,” said Colbert, who briefly resurrected the alter ego over the summer before retiring him once more.

“Toward the end of the show, I started to think that … I might actually drop the entire China set one day because I just couldn’t take playing that character anymore,” he admitted. “I began to feel like I was stumbling downhill with an armful of bottles and — and that I couldn’t actually keep up the discipline ’cause it took discipline to remind myself every day to — no, be the character. Don’t be yourself. And I began to wonder, well, what would it be like to be me?”

Now that he’s experienced that, Colbert talked about the differences between performing as this character and just being himself on stage every night.

“So the character was a 10-year confession, perhaps indulging ego and appetite through the person of this character,” he said. “Then you go onstage as yourself and you’re responsible for everything you say and there’s a natural inclination to pull your punch because you have to be responsible for what you’re saying. You cannot hide behind the mask.”

Head over to NPR to hear more of Colbert’s enlightening interview.

On Election Night, Nov. 8, Colbert is hosting the Showtime special Stephen Colbert’s Live Election Night Democracy’s Series Finale: Who’s Going to Clean Up This S***?