Stephen Colbert on joy, Pope Francis, and being a fool for Christ

Back in April, Comedian extraordinaire Stephen Colbert sat down for an interview with the Salt + Light Media, which has finally seen the light of day. Colbert sheds his famous persona for an earnest, thoughtful discussion, and the results are compelling and heart-warming. Below the video, I've hastily transcribed some highlights.

On the Colbert Report:
"When people invite me to do things, I don't always know who they've invited....me, or the the guy on the television show."

"[Colbert's on-air character] was an idiot....but a fool is a hard thing to consistently achieve as a performer."

Colbert: "He's a fool because he doesn't act according to logic and he doesn't act according to social norms and he doesn't act according to social expectations[....]"
Rosica: "Aren't We're all fools for Christ?"
Colbert: *Breathes* "Yeah, willing to be wrong in society or wrong according to the time, but right according to our conscience, which is guided by the Holy Spirit."
*pause*
"Are you writing this down, by the way? I should have this in Latin."

Rosica: "When did you have trouble staying in character?"
Colbert: "When I had interviews with someone on subjects I was truly interested in."

On the Charlie Hedbo attacks:
"There is no sufficient response I could have thought of. I feel very lucky to not have been on air....finding humor in the horror and tragedy of others is not my job. Part of my job is to have the discretion not to have to do that. That was my first reaction. It was kind of a selfish one."

"My second reaction is that this was the 14th century, Christians could have done this....in the ultimate sense, I don't perceive that action as indicative of Islam....every religion has in so defense of its beliefs it has actually abandoned its beliefs at times."

"This is, I hope, the right relationship to have with your faith, which is to love it, but not to exclude it from your intellect."

On faith and reason:
"Carl Sagan said that 'Buddhists believe that their God is so great that he need not actually exist'....I really like that, because it reminds me of St. Anselm of Canterbury's ontological argument for the existence of God. You know, "the fool says in his heart that there is no God, but by God he means that being then which no greater being can be conceived," and he goes into this lovely 13 step proof that God must exist because we conceive of the word. It's logically perfect. It's completely unsatisfying. Faith ultimately can't be argued. Faith has to be felt. Hopefully you can still feel your faith fully and let your mind have a logical life of its own. They do not defy each other, but compliment each other. Because logic itself, I don't think--for me, Aquinas might say differently--logic itself will not lead me to God. But my love of the world and my gratitude toward it will. Hopefully I can use my mind to make my jokes and not deny my love for God at the same time."

On Jesus and laughter:
Rosica: "One thing I don't find in the New Testament is that Jesus laughed."
Colbert: *laughing* "No! You do find that Jesus wept. That's tough for a comedian. Nowhere does it say that Jesus, you know, guffawed....nowhere does it say, 'Jesus busted a gut.' It does say Judas busted a gut."

"Here's where I think Jesus had to have been laughing. Or at least smiling. Where were they? Off of Capernaum somewhere. Caupernaum was Peter's hometown, right? Sea of Gallilee. There's a storm, the fishermen are out there. Peter, his brother Andrew? He was out there with the other apostles, or the other fishermen. Storm, they don't know what they do, and they see Jesus walking across the water toward them, calming the waves as he goes. Peter, you know, he does his best. [*laughs*] He takes a risk. 'I believe I can do that too.' He throws a leg over, walks across the water a bit. But then he looks down, loses his faith, and drops. I have to imagine that looked like Wile E. Coyote running too far off a cliff and then going 'Huh?' and going WSHHH down into the canyon. If Jesus didn't laugh then, I'm in big trouble, because that's the God I worship."

Rosica: "What's your understanding of humor? Why is humor important for the human condition?...What's your role in humor?"
Colbert: "Well, on one level, humor's a release valve of tension. The world doesn't make sense to us sometimes, and the incongruity of jokes is actually like a release."

"[Humor] is a communication tool. It's communicating the incongruities of life."

"In flippancy, no joke has been made....it armors the soul against joy and deadens the intellect."

"If you're flippant, it's the opposite of joy."

"Here's a purpose of humor, of laughter really, because humor is a soft term. I've said this before, but you can't laugh and be afraid at the same time. And I don't mean mentally you can't hold both things at the same time. It's autonomic, somehow physical. I think it's one of the reasons we laugh when we're afraid. Our body is trying to get rid of that feeling inside of us. But if you're laughing, you know, you just won't be afraid. Why is why it's so important to laugh at the devil.  I forgot who said it, it might have been Milton who said, 'You must laugh at the devil, because mockery alone cannot abide.'"

"Joy is super important...the only way to approach something that is really hard is with joy, because if you don't approach it with joy, it's just a machine, and it will grind you up. The lesson I learned is that doing something joyfully doesn't make it easier, but it does make it better."

"What do we want to be? Not alone."

On Pope Francis's joy:
"I don't presume to know exactly, but I assume that it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. You know, my favorite passage from the Gospel is, 'So I say to you, do not worry, for who among you by worrying can change the hair his head or add a cubit to the span of his life" sort of thing. The opposite of worry is joy. The opposite anger is peace. The opposite of fear would be laughter. I assume that [Pope Francis] takes the Gospel to heart and does not worry. When people are angry, I think mostly they're afraid."

"It's the Beatles of the Bible, the Sermon of the Mount."

"If you take that line of the Gospel to heart, and it's hard you know, it's hard, then I think you have a much better chance of living in joy, because you're living in acceptance. You're not afraid of what's going to happen to you."

"Christ doesn't say 'try not to worry.' He says do not worry. It's close to a commandment."

"One of the reasons we don't give to the poor is the fear that we won't have anything."

"I like the recapitulation of the Last Supper. I really like it. The physical action of it makes the Eucharist real for me."

"When I heard a woman say [this is my body], who I don't perceive of as a priest, it invited me to perceive everyone who isn't a priest as engaging in the Sacrament in an active way. It opened my eyes to the message of the moment, of the Gospel and the Mass, in a way I hadn't before. And now I invite everyone to attack me for suggesting women should be priests."

On what he would ask Pope Francis if interviewed on Colbert's new show:
"I would ask him one of the questions you asked me, which is 'How do you achieve joy?' Because it is *breathes*...well, no. Joy ad love.  Joy hangs in the expression of love of the moment you're in right now and the love of the person you're with right now. I would ask him about how love leads him to joy, or does love lead him to joy. e. e. cummings said that 'Love is the ever only God who breathes this world so glad and big.' He also said that, 'who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you. wholly to be a fool my blood approves.' So I would ask him about being a fool for Christ." 

"To be a fool for Christ is to love. We are here to dig our brief moment in time. I would ask him how he puts that first. How you get to where you are in the church and not to be consumed by the law, as opposed to the love that lead to the law."

Rosica: "Do you have a favorite moment of Saint Francis?"
Colbert: "I like it when he spends time with developmentally disabled people in St. Peter's Square, to take a moment to give them dignity of his attention and respect, is also very moving to me. Washing the feet of a Muslim woman."

"The Church is a flawed and human institution for whom I always have hope. I have no doubt he is far from a perfect man, but he gives me hope that the message of joy that he wants to spread right now an be seen not as revolutionary, but as a manifestation of something that's always been there."