One thing that Stephen Colbert has been able to get away with better than almost anyone else in the entertainment industry over the last nine years is integrating advertising into his program. This is quite the feat: As other artists fight for integrity without commercial interference, Colbert embraces “native advertising” with arms wide open. The most famous example has to be his coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign, which was actually called “The Hail To The Cheese Stephen Colbert Nacho Cheese Doritos Presidential Campaign Coverage.” This led to Colbert literally wearing a suit made out of Doritos wrappers.
Mocking the ugliness of brand intrusion on the creative process while still accepting said ugliness is a time-honored tradition, but no one has ever taken it quite as far as Colbert. (After he won a Peabody, he created stickers that said “Peabody Award Winning!” to take to the store and stick on bags of Doritos, thanking the food for giving him “nacho-cheese lung.” This did not stop him from later noting the monstrosity that was Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew.) The key to this is that Colbert the character, a greedy free-marketer with no compunction about selling anything not nailed down, is precisely the type of person who would wear a Doritos jacket if they paid him enough. Colbert gets to have his corporate satire and eat it too—if he ever dared eat another Dorito.
Heck, even Colbert’s presidential campaign was sponsored by Doritos, which led to what might have been the John Edwards campaign’s last non-humiliating and tragic moment: Edwards spokeswoman Teresa Wells joked when Colbert tried to enter the South Carolina race that, “as the candidate of Doritos, [Colbert’s] hands are stained by corporate corruption and nacho cheese. John Edwards has never taken a dime from taco-chip lobbyists and America deserves a president who isn't in the pocket of the snack-food special interests.” This blatant consumption might not work as well on the new show—when the “real” Colbert has real creative equity at stake—but it has been gangbusters for this one.
Thus, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that with three episodes left, Colbert would be taking one last sprint through the native advertising gauntlet. Inspired by Lincoln Center’s announcement that they would be selling naming rights for Alice Tully Hall—and paying the Tully family $15 million to put the name back on the market—Colbert announced that the final two episodes would be called “The ColbDewar’s Repewars,” thanks to a sponsorship by Dewar’s scotch. The highlight of this was a recasting of the opening credits, with Colbert just screaming “DRINK DRINK DRINK DRINK DRINK.”
We’ll see if Colbert actually does let Dewar’s—which has a major advertising presence on the Comedy Central site—have its name in the show for these final two episodes; he said “this was true,” but it’s Colbert, so you never know. But it would be one last great kiss-off to have this amazing show go off the air with a name as ridiculous as “The ColbDewar’s Repewars.” Having the character Colbert be such a pathetic corporate shill was yet another meta-level of satire: Being so open about one’s corporate masters was a reminder of how everyone else is hiding theirs. Once again, we laugh so that we do not cry.
Jeb Bush’s announcement yesterday that he was “excited to announce I will actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States” allowed Colbert to cover the 2016 campaign even though his show ends in 2014. (“2016 comes early this year!” Colbert grinned.)
Colbert brought up Bush’s immortal November 2013 quote about running in 2016, a perfect little encapsulation of the ridiculousness of “exploratory committees” and “active announcements of possibilities.”
This was punctuated with the killer line: “Think really hard? When’s the last time you heard a Bush say that?”
But the best was Colbert’s Five Stages of Running For President:
- Acceptance (of money from donors)
- Vacationing in Iowa
- The Final Tragic Stage: Pancakes
I’ve argued that “The Colbert Report” was great because it was less about “political comedy” and more about “comedy.” But last night showed that even in its final week, it still has its fastball. I’m going to try not to think about the show until the middle of the presidential campaign … and then I’m going to think about it really hard.