Stephen Colbert often refers to Bill O’Reilly as Papa Bear on The Colbert Report. Not surprisingly, the conservative pundit is no fan of his faux protégé. Papa Bear has been bashing Stephen Colbert this week in response to the comedian’s selection as the new host of The Late Show to replace David Letterman. Speaking as a guest on The View, O’Reilly stated that Colbert is a tool of the left and that the 40 percent of Americans who identify themselves as conservatives will likely avoid the new Late Show host.
Bill O’Reilly models himself as a no nonsense guy. The O’Reilly Factor is a mainstay of Fox News and O’Reilly is a vocal critic of those he sees as threats to continued freedom in America. Agree with him or not, O’Reilly says what he thinks and takes a stand. In this instance, he does not care for a smarty pants comedian. The Colbert Report is generally recognized as a takeoff on O’Reilly’s show. Both Colbert and Jon Stewart make fun of Fox News; however, the comedic slant is often different. Stewart tends to make sport of hypocrisy in which a pundit or politician bashes the other guys while doing the same thing himself. While his targets are more frequently on the left, as pointed out by O’Reilly, Jon Stewart will also tweak Democrats when they fail to walk their talk.
Colbert is less of an equal opportunity mocker. He is less likely to push on left leaning politicians than Stewart. Papa Bear bashes Colbert because he spanks Republicans at a far greater rate than even Stewart. To some degree, O’Reilly misses the point of Colbert’s show. Colbert always remains in character and his character is so conservative he makes Justice Clarence Thomas look liberal. The strident conservatism of Colbert’s character is his comedic shtick. The character does not really allow him to be an equal opportunity mocker.
The real question is whether the master faux conservative mocker can be funny when he is playing himself. Most comedians have a set persona they use for performances. They typically use the same sort of standup performance persona throughout their career. Colbert will have to show he is entertaining without his familiar faux conservative character. He will also have to win over the 40 percent referred to by O’Reilly. Reaching older viewers in general will be virgin territory for the comedian. The Report plays to a young audience and the leaders of CBS no doubt viewed Colbert’s existing audience as a positive in his selection to take over for David Letterman. Each of the network late night shows has “gone younger” with Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien. Further, Letterman was likely not a landing spot for older conservatives anyway.
While Stephen Colbert has been bashed by Papa Bear this week, he certainly has not been intimidated. He made fun of O’Reilly’s logic when the straight talker criticized the President’s quest for more income equality. Hopefully, the two TV show hosts can push on each other for a long time to come for our entertainment.
By William Costolo