The Post In Which We Talk With The Atlantic‘s Election Guru About Stephen Colbert

So we were thinking about this whole Stephen Colbert for President thing and trying to put the damned thing into perspective. But it wasn’t working. Every time we attempted to parse the all-too-serious articles about Colbert’s faux-real run in the media, our brain cells started to slowly die off.

That’s when we decided to call in someone much smarter than us. Enter Joshua Green.

Green is a senior editor over at The Atlantic who has written about Colbert before. He used to write for The Onion and boasts an extensive political writing background. In short, he was exactly the right person to pose these questions to.

Even though he’s currently on the road covering the election trail for the Atlantic, Josh was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time. After the jump, we connect the dots between Gary Coleman and Stephen Colbert… and learn about the low “political-nerd quotient” at The Atlantic.


FBNY: You started your career as an editor for The Onion. What’s your take on the 2008 election? If you keep in touch with any of your old Onion co-workers, what’s their take?

JG: My take is that it’s waaaaay too long, and I suspect Onion folks feel the same way.

FBNY: Are you surprised that Stephen Colbert has taken his mock bid for the presidency as far as he already has?

JG: Nah, he’s following an august tradition of comedian stunt candidacies like Pat Paulsen (former “Smothers Brother”) and Gary Coleman (former mischievous adoptee from Diff’rent Strokes).

FBNY: Looking back historically, are there any antecedents to the Colbert ’08 campaign? If not, do you feel there are any special circumstances related to this election that would inspire a television comedy host to run for President or if it’s all a specific outcome of Colbert’s personality/tv persona?

JG: If your comedic persona is that of a self-important blowhard who lampoons politicians, it’s probably smart to go where the action is, and right now that’s the ’08 presidential race. I think whoever came up with the idea suspected, rightly, that it would generate a ton of attention from a fairly bored political press corps, and it has certainly done that. For reporters who have been listening to the same mind-numbing stump speeches for months now, Colbert is a temporary get-out-of-jail-free card. Plus, it’s extra fun watching stilted, scripted politicians and campaign operatives strain to try and be “hip” and show they’re in on the joke and not just the butt of it.

FBNY: Stephen Colbert did a interview with Tim Russert last weekend in his normal, non-Comedy Central persona. He also wrote that New York Times op-ed with Maureen Dowd and has had media coverage over the past 60 days that rivals that of the conventional presidential candidates. As an aspiring Stephen Colbert South Carolina campaign manager, do you think he’s at risk for a anti-Colbert backlash from his viewers? What steps do you think Colbert should take over the next few months to prevent one, whether or not he stays in the race?

JG: A backlash in favor of what? More Rudy and Hillary? More ten-point plans and talk of Vision, Prosperity, Security? Not a chance. Keep milking it, buddy! If he starts holding rallies and events in South Carolina, it will start to become seriously uncomfortable/annoying to the other campaigns, which will make for great television.

FBNY: How has the reaction around The Atlantic’s offices been to the whole Colbert ’08 thing?

JG: Um, besides me, I don’t really think anyone gives a shit. The political-nerd quotient in the office is fairly low, so most of my colleagues probably have better things to think and write about. Clearly, I don’t.

FBNY: As a journalist covering politics, what has your favorite moment of the 2008 campaign been so far, from any candidate?

JG: Nothing stands out, at all, from any of them, which probably accounts for Colbert Mania. Give the guy this much: he certainly has good political instincts.