In two weeks Stephen Colbert will lead late night into a whole new era. Learn tips for getting to the top from one of the greatest disruptors.
If you are a Stephen Colbert fan, you are more than ready for September 8, when his new show begins in the old David Letterman slot on CBS. If you are still mourning Jon Stewart‘s retirement, I’d bet you’re hoping to find solace in Colbert’s return just in case Trevor Noah is a bust.
If you never watched either The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, you are about to be treated to a surprise. Colbert is one of the smartest stars on TV. He is able to quote Tolkien verbatim, disrupt political finance by raising a million dollars practically overnight as a joke, and confound experts and politicians alike with his knowledge in interviews. He does all this while entertaining the masses and generating significant revenue from sponsors.
As Colbert goes mainstream, you can see his brilliance shine in his entrepreneurial approach to pre-marketing. It’s clever, different, and garnering attention in a noisy world. You could do worse than to learn success lessons from this genius-clown who will be coming to your world weeknights at 11:30 p.m. Here are some of his best and most insightful reveals.
1. Serve others first.
A trained improvisational comedian, Colbert knows that the rules of improv theater not only apply to a staged scene but are sage lessons in life: “One of the things I was taught early on is that you are not the most important person in the scene. Everybody else is. And if they are the most important people in the scene, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them. But the good news is you’re in the scene too. So hopefully to them you’re the most important person, and they will serve you. No one is leading, you’re all following the follower, serving the servant.”
2. Be aware of what you love.
“In my experience, you will truly serve only what you love, because, as The Prophet says, ‘service is love made visible.’ If you love friends, you will serve your friends. If you love community, you will serve your community. If you love money, you will serve money. And if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself, and you will have only yourself.” Having watched his show recorded live several times, it is obvious to me that Colbert loved and served the people around him as well as his audience. Clearly, he is well loved, respected, and in charge.
3. Sometimes the hard way is the only way — take it anyway.
“If you must find your own path — and you are left with no easy path — then decide to take the hard path that leads you to the life and the world that you want.” Giving up at the first sign of difficulty is a sure-fire way to let your dreams escape through your fingers. Colbert, a self-made man, knows that the way to achieving your dreams isn’t always easy, but if you don’t let anything deter you, it will be worth it.
4. See everything as an opportunity.
“One of the things that I like about improvisation is that, literally, there are no mistakes. There are only opportunities,” said Colbert in a 2007 Parade Magazine interview. Apply this to your life — every mistake and every misstep could uncover the opportunity that leads you to what you’ve always wanted.
5. Haters gonna hate: Let them.
There will always be people in the world who won’t agree with you, or who judge you for the things you do. Colbert is clear that you don’t need to listen to these opinions: “Realize that the things that people say about you don’t really matter. It’s who you are. And the older you get, the more you’ll understand that.”
6. Keep laughing.
Colbert, of course, is one of the world’s premier funnymen. The Colbert Report was a great example of laughter being a way to turn difficult situations into manageable bumps. “You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time — of anything,” says Colbert. “If you are laughing, I defy you to be afraid.”
7. Be inclusive, even if you have to hire people to do so.
In a Glamour article this month, Colbert addressed the dearth of females and female perspectives in late-night TV, in his own satirical Colbert fashion, of course. “Female viewers need more than a pretty face; they need someone who will represent their voice. I think this essay has proved that I have an authentic female perspective, because most of it was written by two female writers on my staff. Point is, I’m here for you, and that means I’m going to do my best to create a Late Show that not only appeals to women but also celebrates their voices.”
8. Love failure as much as success.
Colbert’s article in GQ this month gave real insight as to how he will keep generating so much successful content in a high-stakes environment. Imagine having to compete for attention every night against Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. “You gotta learn to love when you’re failing. . . . The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.”
9. Say YES . . . a lot.
If you are wondering how Colbert made it to the top, here it is: his ability to step into opportunities when they came. He used one unparalleled word, from his early days at Second City and The Daily Show to now taking the place of David Letterman, the longest-running talk-show host of all time, on The Late Show. “Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the furthest thing from it, because cynics don’t learn anything. Cynicism is self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we’re afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say ‘no.’ But saying ‘yes’ begins things. Saying ‘yes’ is how things grow. Saying ‘yes’ leads to knowledge. ‘Yes’ is for young people. So, for as long as you have the strength, say ‘YES.’ ”