Artists of the Year

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert

By Eric Lorberer

Satire was in trouble. An art form nearly as old as civilization itself, it had fallen on especially hard times of late. In the age of reality TV, the edifying gesture of the genre seemed all but dead. Fortunately, a gaggle of comedic talents started fighting back, among them Larry David, Ricky Gervais, and Jon Stewart. But no one skewered our political pratfalls better this past year than Stephen Colbert.

Colbert pokes fun at our media-obsessed state with a proctologist's gloved finger—or make that fist. His pitch-perfect riff on punditry, The Colbert Report, takes the most sacrosanct aspects of our culture—religion, race, patriotism—and whips them into a Jabberwockian froth. But Colbert does far more than merely parody a conservative blowhard. This year, his caricature of our self-obsessed culture extended to having himself as a guest on his own show; his "Better Know a District" segments shamed members of Congress left and right; and his unconditional "support" of the president reverse-engineered a probing analysis of the executive branch.

This willingness to tackle the commander-in-chief isn't new; aficionados of Colbert's antics may remember how last year, as a wolf dressed in sheep's drag at the White House Correspondents Dinner, he goosed the president and his sycophants but good. This year, however, he topped that performance by running for president himself, a campaign so ridiculous it made the other campaigns look...just as ridiculous. Like any good satirist, Colbert knows that the best way to make fun of his targets is to become them.

Colbert's erstwhile presidential bid arrived hand in hand with his other modest proposal this year, the book I Am America (And So Can You!), which, like the silent Ts in Colbert Report, starts lampooning our penchant for huff-puffery in the very title. Replete with charts, stickers, and Colbert's trademark nonsensicals (e.g., "It's time to impregnate this country with my mind"), the book has something serious to say behind the chuckles—there's even a transcript of the aforementioned Correspondents Dinner speech included for those who missed it. The result is a paradox we Americans deserve: the silliest book released this year is also among the sagest.

Eric Lorberer edits the award-winning Rain Taxi Review of Books and directs the annual Twin Cities Book Festival.

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