Stephen Colbert can’t pretend tragedies don’t happen

stephen colbert late show
Still from CBS

Before his first segment on presidential election Friday night, Stephen took a moment to talk about pretending. “That is something I know a little but about,” he said, before explaining how, after pretending so long to be somebody else and pretending to feel a certain way on his Colbert Report, he is now supposed to be real and pretend he knows what he’s doing on The Late Show. But he then turned the object of his speech, and the object of our pretending, to the tragedy that happened in Oregon Thursday, where a shooting left nine dead at a community college. Stephen said, “I can’t pretend that it didn’t happen. I also can’t pretend to know how to prevent what happened…But I think pretending is part of the problem. These things happen over and over again, and we are naturally horrified and shocked when we hear about them. But then we change nothing, and we pretend that it won’t happen again.” He acknowledges the problem of trying to solve it. Some say the solution is more gun laws, some say better mental health care. Stephen doesn’t pretend to know. What he does know is that “one of the definitions of insanity, is changing nothing, and then pretending that something will change.” This was a heartfelt speech. There was nothing ironic or witty about it. He did not turn it into a critique of inactive lawmakers. He simply said that something must be done, whatever that may be. It must be talked about; we must address it; we cannot balk at politicizing it. It is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy that happens too often to be ignored. It would be insane not to be honest about what is happening, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think, as Jeb Bush put it, “Stuff happens.”

Then the moment was over, and he had to get back to business as normal, because making people laugh in the wake of tragedy can be important, too. “Speaking of honest insanity,” Stephen segued, “Donald Trump.” He then launched into his typical critique of Trump and the circus that is the 2016 presidential election, comparing the last debate to Real Housewives of New Jersey saying to Trump, “To answer your call for political honest, I just wanna say: You’re not gonna be president. It’s been fun. It’s been great…But come on, buddy.” Stephen kept on with this call to honest, “Speaking of political bulls—t. Congress.” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the leading candidate to succeed John Boehner, and the man Kevin Spacey actually shadowed when researching the role of Francis Underwood, proved why he shouldn’t replace the Speaker of the House. In an interview, McCarthy implied that the purpose of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s role in Benghazi was actually a ploy to bring down her poll numbers. Even Republicans are tearing into him for the admission. Stephen advised him to take a cue from Underwood, saying, “The next time he wants to divulge a devious plot, do it in a monologue when no one’s around.” He then tried to think of a name to call the hearings that would have to investigate the Benghazi investigation. “The Banghazi hearing hearings?” Stephen wonders, before coming up with a name that would better represent this kind of political slideshow. “How about the McCarthy hearings?”

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