Winter 2010

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Northwestern is the quarterly alumni magazine for Northwestern University.
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Rooming with Stephen Colbert

Like many Northwestern students, Stephen Colbert started out in student housing — in his case, Willard Residential College — and then moved off campus into a place with way too many other people.

Colbert and roommates lived in a white duplex at the corner of Ridge and Foster. “Stephen nicknamed it ‘Dis,’ the hell where heretics burn in Dante’s Inferno,” says roommate Anne Libera, now of Second City. “We all called it that. A lot of things happened in that living room.”

“Sometimes we were actually sitting around trying to plan a theater group, and other times it was just late nights with very fantastic, interesting friends,” says roommate Christopher Baker, now senior dramaturg at Hartford Stage in Connecticut.

Baker worked at Banana Republic just as the store was getting rid of its initial safari look. “He brought home a carload of fake plants and bamboo,” says Libera. “It was a classic Chicago living room connected to the dining room, a fireplace in the corner, and a big old couch whose seat cushions we had to cover with plastic bags because they were molting. So every time you sat on the couch, it would go ‘psssssst.’ And all these fake plants and bamboo made it look like a jungle.”

This was the ‘80s, she points out, “so everyone smoked, so that’s part of the memory, the haze. And there was a chessboard in front of the fireplace. And Stephen was always very interested in playing chess because in his head while he played there was a mythic battle going on — somewhere there were kings and knights and actual horses.”

Their most famous roommate well remembers the plants, the people and the pets. “We had a cat named Blanche, Blanche Dubois, with her soft white shoulders,” Colbert reminisces. “She would get on [roommate] Eric Goodman because he was warm and he didn’t move very much. Blanche was superfat, and she always thought we were underfeeding her.”

Colbert switches to a high-pitched lilt to speak for Blanche. “She’d always go, ‘I can see my ribs!’” He switches back and forth from high-pitched Blanche to authoritative Colbert tones:

“Blanche, you cannot see your ribs.”

“‘Yes, I can!’”

“No, Blanche, you have a problem!”

“I don’t!”

As always, many memories center on the kitchen too. “There were five of us living in a duplex, so there was always just enough food in the refrigerator,” says Goodman, now a Disney “Imagineer.” “We’d borrow each other’s food to make it to the end of the week —‘Oh, was that your bag of Dorito’s? Sorry!’”

Goodman, says Libera, would unaccountably store leftover pizza in the oven. “That’s my memory of Stephen, saying, ‘Is he leaving them there to dry in the oven for pizza jerky?’” she says, laughing.

“Yeah, I didn’t realize that’s not where you’re supposed to leave pizza until my mid-20s,” Goodman admits.

“Kellie Overbey would make a pot of pasta —she’s boiling water for pasta, and every pot would get dirty, and every cabinet door would be left open,” Colbert says, still wonderingly.

“I remember once I almost killed Stephen because I showered with baby oil in the shower and he fell down in the tub after me, but that’s college living,” says Overbey, now a Broadway actor. “I almost prevented him from becoming famous by maiming him in the bathroom with baby oil.”

After he graduated, Colbert began making futons in the basement. “I was completely skeptical,” says Baker. “I remember trekking down to the basement to see one and thinking, ‘Actually, this is pretty good.’”

“That’s because he never slept in one,” says Colbert. “They were terrible. I’m offering money back to anyone who had one. I think it was a hundred bucks.” —C.P.