Stephen Colbert delivers laughs to American troops
Sunday, June 7, 2009
By Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq — Apparently, all it took for victory in Iraq was a visit by late-night funnyman Stephen Colbert.
"By the power vested in me by basic cable, I officially declare we have won the Iraq war!" the mock pundit joked before a cheering crowd of about 300 U.S. servicemembers who gathered here on Sunday for a taping of his TV show, The Colbert Report.
The show, which will air tonight on cable's Comedy Central, did have (slightly more modest) real-life historic implications: It was the first non-news television show to be produced, taped and transmitted to the U.S. from a combat zone, according to John Hanson, a senior vice president for the United Service Organizations (USO), which brings entertainment and other programs to troops in the field.
In the past, performers such as Bob Hope, who made several famed visits with troops in Vietnam, would film and a crew would bring footage to the U.S. to edit and repackage. The performance would not be shown on television until months later. Colbert and a crew of about 20 are shooting and beaming back by satellite four episodes that will air this week, Hanson said.
Colbert taped the first of four shows dubbed "Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando" in the gaudy rotunda of one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces on this sprawling base near Baghdad International Airport.
Colbert, who has been raising money for charitable organizations that support U.S. troops, had been trumpeting his plan to tape his show before U.S. servicemembers in an undisclosed location. Taking heed of Defense Department security precautions, Colbert would only say in recent shows that, where he was going, "there will be sand and people that wish we would leave."
Before the show, some soldiers wondered whether Colbert, whose TV persona pokes fun at conservative punditry, would dial it down for a military audience.
No way. "He went totally all out," said 1st Lt. Virginia Brickner, 29, of Van Wert, Ohio.
The man who invented the word "truthiness" joked that Iraq must be a pretty nice place, considering many of the servicemembers in the audience "keep coming again, again and again."
"The good news is you have enough frequent flier miles for a trip to Afghanistan," Colbert told the troops, who responded with hearty laughter.
Colbert might have gotten his biggest laughs during his interview with Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq. Before he brought Odierno on stage, Colbert showed a video sketch of his attempt at boot camp at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.
After a semiserious interlude in which Odierno told Colbert his declaration of victory might be a bit premature, Colbert asked the general how he thought Colbert would fare in his Army.
Odierno responded that Colbert had too much hair to be a soldier. At that point, President Obama was beamed in on a large projection screen and ordered Odierno to give Colbert a trim.
Colbert will be sporting a buzz cut for the rest of his stay in Iraq.