Stephen Colbert was on a TCA panel for Our Cartoon President, a Showtime animated series about Donald Trump and his White House staff. After the panel, Colbert sat on the edge of the stage for reporters to ask follow-up questions, as he had done the summer of 2015 when presenting The Late Show to TCA.
I got a chance to ask about Colbert’s controversial anti-Trump monologue from 2017 and help follow-up about his issues with Viacom bringing back his Colbert Report character. Our Cartoon President premieres February 11, with a sample dropping online January 28, two days before Trump’s State of the Union address.
WLE: When you referred to Trump’s mouth as Putin’s cock holder —
Stephen Colbert: I’m not familiar with that. [Joking]
WLE: Some in the gay community thought that was a step too far. Did you ever consider taking that one joke back since the issue was Trump being in bed with Putin, not any gay act?
Stephen Colbert: No, I didn’t. I would never want anything I say to be believed that I would be disparaging the homosexual community, but I had my own reasons why that was not for me that. So that’s why I didn’t take it back.
WLE: Would the Colbert Report character have been a Trump supporter?
Stephen Colbert: 100%. Matter of fact, one of the reasons I’m so happy to not do The Colbert Report anymore, even though I loved it, is that Trump is such a similar character to my old character. In other words, a poorly informed, self-important, high status idiot, that it would be very hard for me to leapfrog him. Kind of a Glenn Beck problem too. I had a little trouble doing that with Glenn Beck as well. He’d definitely a fan. He’d be on board. He’d be, “Maga!” the whole way
Q: How do Trump voters treat you?
Stephen Colbert: I’ve got ‘em in my family and we love and hug each other.
Q: They tend to call the news office and they can be nasty.
Stephen Colbert: That may happen but nobody tells me. You’d want to talk to somebody who answers the phone at my show. It is natural for people to take exception with some of the jokes we do for whatever reason. I expect that and I respect that but there’s not much I can do about it.
Q: Is there anything good you can portray about Donald Trump on Our Cartoon President?
Stephen Colbert: He is a great booster for the idea that America is great. I think pride in your country is a virtue.
Q: During your Late Show panel, someone asked about Trump and you said you could think of worse things than having a President with a great swinging set of balls.
Stephen Colbert: That’s right.
Q: Any regrets?
Stephen Colbert: I’m wrong all the time. This is just another example of it. It’s the way he swings them. It’s not swinging them. It’s I don’t think he’s aware the things he knocks over. He’s a swinging set of balls in a china shop.
Q: At the time did you think no way would he win?
Stephen Colbert: The crazy thing is, I think I may have said this, I was just so eager to get on the air because I was afraid he’d drop out before we could get on the air. Now it’s a different thing. He didn’t. He became President of the United States obviously but now my fear is always that he moves so fast that we won’t have the right joke when the moment comes. We’ll have written something that happened five minutes ago as opposed to five minutes from now. I don’t mind being wrong but I do mind the ways he is wrong.
Q: Have you given any thought to how you would make fun of Mike Pence?
Stephen Colbert: How does one mock a manilla envelope?
Q: On The Colbert Report you skewered the media. What are your observations about what Trump has done to the media and how it’s affected us?
Stephen Colbert: Oh, I don’t know how it’s affected you. I hope you’re okay. I think one of the most dangerous things he’s done is to rough the umpire to this degree. To try to have no authority but him by delegitimizing a free press. I think so far, probably, see what happens with the tax cut, that might be the most damaging thing he’s doing, convincing a large section of the population that there is no objective reality that can be referred to by a free media.
Q: Why do you think people believe the term “fake news?”
Stephen Colbert: Well, it’s a term that’s been used in various different ways by autocrats to, as I said, delegitimize the Fourth Estate. So there’d be no referee, so there’s nobody who can challenge authority. That aspect of it is not new at all. I think that nobody wants to be disappointed in our worldview so if your leader says that everything you’re hearing that you don’t agree with isn’t true or that it’s fake, that’s just satisfying. That scratches an itch.
Q: What’s the status of being able to use your Colbert Report character and The Word on The Late Show?
Stephen Colbert: I don’t know. I just do it when I feel like it and I would love a lawsuit. It would be fun. It would be great to make them prove, to have somebody go into court and say, “You cannot go onstage as someone with your own name. That is illegal. We own your name when you inflect it.”
WLE: Was that not something they discussed with Viacom when they started the show?
Stephen Colbert: I really do want a lawyer present before I answer that question and I think that might be your answer.
Q: What cartoons made you laugh as a kid?
Stephen Colbert: Rocky & Bullwinkle. That was my favorite as a kid. Sure, the classic Warner Bros., Bugs Bunny. I liked Chilly Willy strangely. Remember Chilly Willy, the penguin?
Q: What about Boris and Natasha?
Stephen Colbert: We need you now more than ever, Boris and Natasha.
Q: What did you come away with from your trip to Russia? How much of that will impact Our Cartoon President?
Stephen Colbert: Oh, well, I think Putin will be a character.
Stephen Colbert: Is there any other way? The trip to Russia was fascinating because I had never been. What I was struck by when I was there is how much the Russian people are marketed to by government corporations, the same way we are. That’s, in some ways, the way I felt most at home was watching a fast food commercial where they’re trying to get me to cry as a father remembers all the times he had French fries with his daughter before he gives her away at the wedding. Then I realized, “Oh wow, that’s why Russia seems similar.” Underneath that Western marketing veneer, there’s a very different world view that I couldn’t quite identify. I said this before when I was on the show, that Russia feels like the uncanny valley of the west. The way a robot will look really like a human, then he starts making [weird movements]. You recoil. The same problem happens with digital animation where it gets almost real and then it doesn’t look [real]. Russia is so close to being western that it’s unnerving at times when you’re having a casual conversation with someone and then they start making disparaging comments about Jews or gay people. Then you’re like oh wait, no, no, no, this is not on the same path of modernization or progress that the west is.
Q: Was anything off limits to you in Russia?
Stephen Colbert: When I was in Red Square, they said, “Please don’t say Putin’s name.” I’m like, just don’t even say his name? Like, “Please, just don’t say his name.” And we were followed everywhere we went, by Putin’s people and by Trump’s people. It was a lot of fun.
Q: People are calling for Twitter to shut down Trump’s account because of his remarks taunting North Korea. What are your thoughts on that? Would it intrude on his first amendment rights?
Stephen Colbert: I don’t know what Twitter’s rules are but I think it’s hard to take a microphone away from the President of the United States.
Q: Are you fearful of or hopeful for a cease and desist order from Trump?
Stephen Colbert: It is an honor to gain the attention of the President of the United States for any reason.