I was hesitant about the first few episodes — what the hell was this schtick he was doing, and how could it possibly avoid getting stale? But Colbert quickly won me over (enough so that I attended a taping of one of his very, very early episodes). Like The Daily Show, I’m sure much of this had to do with timing: It’s easy to be attracted to The Colbert Report when you’re a liberal college freshman in New York, a time when you’re supposed to be an obnoxious know-it-all who is all about political snark. But there was something else there, too, most notably a fascination with Colbert’s ability to straddle the smart and the stupid. It takes a great deal of intelligence to consistently play such a clueless blowhard, to have him spew a never-ending selection of ignorant, obnoxious, and frustrating ideas in such a way that the character proves the opposite of the point he’s trying to make.
It’s clear that The Colbert Report made an impression on a fairly wide swathe of people. There was a musical goodbye that included Bill Clinton, James Franco, soldiers in Afghanistan, Big Bird, Katie Couric, Pussy Riot, and on and on and on, all singing “We’ll Meet Again” — a poignant and fitting choice of song, not just because of its connection to the satirical film Dr: Strangelove, but also because it’s true. We’ll meet Stephen Colbert the character again, in the form of multiple sincere pundits — and sincerely misguided — pundits, and we’ll meet Stephen Colbert the person again when he takes over for David Letterman in 2015 and we get to see his true personality anchor a late night program. The Colbert Report is over, but Colbert is just beginning — again. “Stephen Colbert” is dead; long live Stephen Colbert.