Stephen Colbert on Being a “Fool for Christ”


The following excerpt is originally from an article of The Gospel Coalition by Trevin Wax on September 29, 2015. To read the full article, click here.

If, ten years ago, someone had told me that today I would be writing an article about the theology of a late-night talk show host, I wouldn’t have believed it. Picturing Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Conan O’Brien – I would have thought: What would there be to write about? 

Yet here we are in a day in which late-night hosts have left behind some of the cynicism of the past in favor of the fundamentals of comedy. We smile at Jimmy Fallon’s infectious joy and marvel at Stephen Colbert’s ability to combine moments of hilarity with moments of gravity as he talks with his guests.

Faith in Late-Night TV

I’m glad to see this refreshing shift in late-night television. I’m also glad to see that, in the midst of our secular age, a comedian like Stephen Colbert would be so open about his Catholicism. In a recent episode of Witness, Colbert answered questions from Thomas Rosica about the persona he created on The Colbert Report, the need for humor and faith, and the interplay between faith, facts, and feelings.

Now, it’s rare to see performers of this stature speaking so openly (and positively) about faith – with no qualms or equivocations. Even more rare is the performer who displays so much knowledge of his church’s teaching and history. Colbert retells stories from the Gospels, references Thomas Aquinas, summarizes C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, and critiques Anselm of Canterbury. It’s remarkable to see a public figure speak not about “having faith” in general, but about a faith in particular.

The “Fool for Christ”

In the interview, Colbert describes his persona on the Colbert Report as a “pundit” – someone who is blissfully unaware of important facts, but confident in the rightness of his feelings. Colbert’s created persona acted on whatever he felt to be true. He was a “well-intentioned,” but “poorly informed idiot.” The humor came from Colbert’s willingness to “play the fool” for nine years, to mine the depths of stupidity in search for the unexpected, which evokes laughter.

According to Colbert, “idiocy” is when your good intentions and feelings overwhelm your judgment to the point you dismiss facts that might challenge your beliefs. Impervious to reason, Colbert’s alter ego is a fool “because he doesn’t act according to logic, and social norms, and expectations.”

Right then, Rosica shifts the conversation to what it means to be a “fool for Christ.” That’s when Colbert defines foolishness for Christ as the willingness “to be wrong in society, or wrong according to our time, but right according to our conscience, as guided by the Holy Spirit.”

Stephen Colbert goes on to say very intriguing things about the Christian faith and how “foolish” it is, according to the world, to follow Christ. Visit The Gospel Coalition to read the rest of the article.

In light of Stephen Colbert’s stance on faith being recognized, how has this changed the way you think about being “a fool for Christ”? Does it change your view on how to live in front of your fellow colleagues, classmates, students, patients, neighbors, family, friends?