Wisdom from the Funny Man

Sunday I preached about how, as parents, we want to make sure our kids acquire wisdom, and not just knowledge. Knowledge is good and all, but we all know people who are packed full of knowledge but have no idea how to use what they have to be kind to people, or to make the world a better place.

And then yesterday I read this interview in GQ with Stephen Colbert. On the surface, it’s about his transitioning from his Comedy Central character on the Colbert Report into his new job at the Late Show on CBS. It is so much more than that.

It is a master class on wisdom–taking the things that life throws your way and applying what you have learned in other parts of your life to make sense of it all.

image from GQ Magazine

image from GQ Magazine

Early in his career, Colbert was doing Improv at Second City in Chicago when the longtime Second City director Jeff Michalski told them that the most important lesson he could pass on to them was this: “You have to learn to love the bomb.”

That’s a good lesson for anyone. Colbert describes it like this:

It took me a long time to really understand what that meant. It wasn’t ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.

So he trained himself to steer into the fear–whether that was in professional opportunity or in comedic moments in an elevator. The interviewer from GQ, Joel Lovell, connected the dots even further back in Colbert’s life. When Colbert was 10, his father and 2 of his brothers were killed in a plane crash. His older siblings were already out of the house, so he was at home alone with his mother. And he described her as being “broken but not bitter”.

“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

How’s that for wisdom?

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

It doesn’t mean he wanted his dad and brothers to die in a plane crash. It just means that since it did happen, he can also recognize the blessings that happened in his life in the aftermath of the tragedy.

If you haven’t already, go read the entire interview. It’s beautiful.

Back when my kids were much younger, and when I thought there were probably things they should not see on TV, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart was the show Alden was drawn to like a moth to a flame. Colbert was still a reporter on Stewart’s show at this time and I worried that my 10 year old wouldn’t “get” his character, or understand satire. I needn’t have worried. We had the DVD set of Stewart’s coverage of the 2004 presidential election–the primaries through the election coverage.

A few years after that election, we were in seminary in Decatur, GA and had invited a number of my classmates over to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. The kids finished eating and had wandered off while the adults were having boring, grown up talk. Alden ran back into the dining room and asked, “Mom, can we watch the Republican Convention?”

He meant, of course, that he wanted to watch Colbert’s character reporting from the Republican Convention. It led to an awkward moment at the dinner table, however, as my friends all looked at me and wondered just what happened at the Glass house when they weren’t around.

I’m grateful my kids have always had Colbert on screen. And now he will be transitioning to a new role and we can all continue to watch someone who has figured out how to seamlessly live his faith and use his knowledge both for his own personal well being and to make the world a more joy filled and better place.

Thanks, Mr Colbert. And yes, Alden, you can go watch the Republican Convention.



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