ARCHIVE: He Am Stephen Colbert


It’s reportedly a SOLD OUT affair by the time we post this, but if you scored tickets to Stephen Colbert’s fundraiser appearance for the Two River Theater (hosted, actually, at the TRT’s bigger/older friend, the Count Basie), you know about as much as we do as to what to expect when Aaron Posner interviews this national treasure in an informal public conversation. Continue reading for our own interview of the man who interviews the interviewer…

(First published on Red Bank oRBit October 30, 2009)

It’s a “rare, out-of-character interview”  (and a benefit for Two River Theater Company) with Stephen Colbert, last seen ’round these parts in the role of dramatic actor, in a script-in-hand play reading at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. On Sunday, November 1, the author of the best-selling I Am America (and So Can You) comes to the Count Basie Theatre to appear onstage in his greatest role — that of The Real Stephen Colbert, a man not to be confused with “Stephen Colbert,” a guy described as “one of the most intensely theatrical, bitingly satiric, genuinely important and totally original characters on television today.” That last according to Aaron Posner, TRTC’s Artistic Director and the man who will be sharing the stage with Colbert in a candid conversation about…well, only their hairdressers know for sure. We’re reasonably certain that you’ll find the event sold out as you read this, but it wouldn’t hurt to inquire to the Basie box office at (732)842-9000. And if it’s any consolation, stick around and Continue Reading for our own interview of the interlocutor Posner, regarding his “who knew?” history with Colbert.

RED BANK oRBit: The question has to be, how’d you score Colbert for your fundraiser? And donating his services, yet?

AARON POSNER: It’s incredibly generous of him, as a gift to the theater. I’ve actually known him 20-something years, ever since we met at Northwestern University — we were in the same acting class there, as was Denis O’Hare. And David Schwimmerwas there at the time also, although not in our class.

I directed Stephen in a show called “Terry Won’t Talk,” and so this event will be the first time we’ve worked together formally since then — not counting the time that I invited him to do some workshops when I was with the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia.

So you guys have stayed in touch with each other over the years?

As much as possible — I remember going to a taping of his TV show, pretty early on in its run. It was only the third or fourth week of the show, and at that time there was no guarantee that it would have any long-term commitment from the network. I was there when he found out that he was renewed for a whole season, which was a happy occasion, and ever since then he’s just hit the ground running, working as hard as he can on this thing, developing and maintaining this cultural phenomenon.

Now, the Colbert that you’ve known all these years, the guy that you’ll be talking with on the stage, is a different person than what’s called the “character of Stephen Colbert…”

I have such a tremendous respect for what he’s accomplished. His character is a sustained performance; something that he’s able to work with as a scripted creation and also in an improvisational context…nobody has as fast a mind as him. Stephen’s remarkable for both intelligence and speed, so it makes sense that he andJon Stewart became friends and partners in this project. They’re both among the best interviewers in the media, although they each have their own approach to things.

You could say that since Colbert does what he does in character, it’s like Ginger Rogers doing what Fred Astaire did, “only backwards and in heels.” You’re aware, though, that a number of people have been said to take everything that Colbert says at face value?

I’ve heard that, yes. Well, I guess P.T. Barnum had a quote for that…

Say no more. Let’s talk instead about how exactly it came to pass that the Two River fundraiser is taking place at the Count Basie.

We enjoy a great relationship with the Basie people, and of course the Basie has about five times the capacity as Two River Theater, so it made sense to hold the event there. The tickets have sold very well, and we expect to have a sellout by the time it turns to November. Of course, 99.99% of the people will be there to see Stephen. The other .01% is just my mother — and it’s possible that she’s there for him more than for me!

Well, you’ve always conducted yourself well on both sides of an interview — but Colbert, as we said, is something else entirely; a sly master at turning the situation around to his advantage. How does one prep for a one-on-one with such a formidable opponent? And what can we expect to be seeing up there on the stage?

Well, I can only hope I have questions that he’s interested in answering. I guess I can say that I’ll go wherever he takes us, but it’s ultimately his show.

There could be a little bit of a theatrical bent to what we’re doing; we’ll go broad and wide in places, and we might do some kind of funny bit — but I wouldn’t box with Ali, and I certainly won’t try to out-funny Stephen Colbert!