The Invincibility of The Colbert Report to Bleed

In a 2014 video of The Colbert Report titled “Who’s Attacking Me Now?”, Colbert addresses the backlash from news and social media outlets regarding a problematic joke he had made as his character to parodize the actions of the person he was reporting on.

Some aspects that make Colbert strong against the bleed-out effect of actually adopting the problematic beliefs of his character is that he has a strong alibi, a facet of the social contract created when an audience member watches the show. When a person tunes into the show, they must understand that Colbert is depicting an actor, not his real self. In an RPG, the alibi provides “the premise that any actions in the game are taken by the character, not by the player…In principle, no individual is responsible for their actions in-character if those events could unfold plausibly within the fiction”. The stronger the alibi, the weaker the bleed; Colbert isn’t actually a conservative in real life, contrary to the conservative character he plays on the show. His choice to play a conservative character was to satirize the conservative personality-driven political talk programs. The role-playing experience is also a co-creative and collective one; from Colbert’s side there is the director, script writer, camera workers, and a whole crew working with him to create the character for his show. Not to mention the cheers, laughter, and clapping from the audience that demonstrate their participation of approving the character and allowing it to exist. There are so many people invested in the character, that it’s difficult for Colbert to experience bleed with it.

Some misconception on the distinction between the two Colbert’s could be attributed to having an implicit entrance to the “magic circle” as well as there being physical/name similarities between the two. When a viewer tunes into the Colbert Report, Colbert doesn’t announce “I’m going to start playing as the conservative character now, so don’t think what I’m going to say in this show aligns with my actual beliefs”. Instead, he immediately starts the show as his character. Another point that would encourage viewers to combine the two together is that they look exactly the same and share the same name, Stephen Colbert; by not donning a costume or taking on a different name, there is no immediate difference in physical appearance between Colbert’s real self and his show self.  

One thought on “The Invincibility of The Colbert Report to Bleed

  1. I do agree with the argument you have here, especially about the alibi, and how it would potentially affect the person. You showed in Colbert’s case how similar the character and the person can be, and that it is really hard to tell one from the other. We also saw how Colbert uses his character as a front to any criticism to any backlash. I just started to feel how strong an alibi could be.

    Ideally speaking, the person could blame everything he has done to the character, and say that in that action, he/she is acting out the character, rather than being himself. And you would be forced to believe this statement, since first you are so invested in this face of the character (especially when the character portrayed is a weird or absurd character). Also, you have no prove whatsoever that the person is lying. You cannot get into the head and read the thoughts. As a result, it feels like the person, using the character as an alibi, can get away with everything. And sometimes its not the bleed-out of the character to the person, but the bleed-out of the character to the audience, that occurs, and thus we will actually believe what he says, based on how strong the character’s presence is compared to the person’s.

    It’s as if the actor has obtained a get-out-of-jail-free card. And it just entirely overturns the social norms, since law and morality cannot be attributed to the person, hiding behind his character. So frightening.


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