Special Feature: Commencement 2011

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Stephen Colbert Headlines Northwestern Graduation

The Northwestern alumnus will speak at commencement and receive an honorary degree

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January 24, 2011 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Stephen Colbert, the satirist widely known for the outrageous political pundit he plays on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” will speak at Northwestern University’s 153rd commencement.

Northwestern’s 2011 commencement ceremony will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday, June 17, at Northwestern’s Ryan Field.  

A Northwestern alumnus, Colbert is host and executive producer of the multiple Emmy and Peabody award-winning “The Colbert Report,” touted by The New York Times as “one of the best television shows of the year.”

The show parodies the hyper-political conventions of television news broadcasting. Colbert, a 1986 graduate of Northwestern’s School of Communication, plays a blustery character named Stephen Colbert, the satiric embodiment of self-important journalists. He stays in character during the entire show, improvising his responses, ridiculously so, to his guests. 

“The Colbert Report,” which deployed to Iraq in June 2009, is the first television show in U.S. history to produce a week of shows in a combat zone. Among the highlights, Gen. Ray Odierno received a direct order from Commander in Chief Barack Obama to shave Colbert’s head.

Colbert’s book “I Am America (And So Can You!)” spent 29 weeks on The New York Times’ best-seller list, occupying the number one spot for 13 weeks.

At Northwestern, Colbert was planning a serious acting career when he fell in love with improv. He performed with a Northwestern improv team, which included Northwestern alumnus David Schwimmer, later of “Friends” fame. Foreshadowing “the cigar-chomping, high-status idiot” that he plays on the “The Colbert Report,” he and a group of friends at Northwestern would each adopt a different character and have conversations -- adhering to their roles -- that could last up to an hour.

Only two years out of college, he ended up with the Second City touring company. He perfected the high-status idiot character at Second City and later with friends and fellow Second City performers Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello through two early series on Comedy Central, the sketch comedy program “Exit 57” and the cult classic “Strangers with Candy.”

He first gained wide public recognition as one of the characters in Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Colbert was the longest-tenured correspondent on the wildly popular news parody show, playing, as he described, “a fool who has spent a lot of his life playing not the fool.”

Recently profiled by Northwestern magazine, Colbert served as grand marshal of the Northwestern homecoming parade in 2006.