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Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what's going to happen next, and you are mostly just making things up as you go along.”

Stephen Colbert
in his Commencement Address to Northwestern's class of 2011

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert’s Northwestern Direction:

  • Transfer to Northwestern as a junior.
  • Discover Chicago improv. Begin performing with Northwestern’s improv team and theater productions simultaneously.
  • Complete Northwestern’s three-year acting program in two years.
  • Join the Second City touring company. Quit repeatedly—returning to straight theater—before committing to comedy.
  • Become a scene-stealing correspondent on The Daily Show.
  • Win an Emmy for his satiric show, The Colbert Report.
  • Take on late night as host of The Late Show

Starring in a nightly television show is a grueling job. It's even harder if you're improvising a character like the conservative blowhard that Stephen Colbert created for the Colbert Report, a satiric take on right-wing news that ran for nine years. Add to that the real Colbert, a suburban husband and father of three who finds time to promote charities and the Yellow Ribbon Fund.

The pace will be even more punishing when Colbert begins hosting The Late Show in 2015.

Fortunately, Colbert's energy and perseverance is legendary. From the moment Colbert set foot on Northwestern's campus as a junior-year transfer from Hampden-Sydney College, he worked tirelessly. In addition to completing the three-year acting program in two years, Colbert juggled two student jobs, the cafeteria line at 1835 Hinman and computer data correction at the library.

Senior year, he even attempted to take both Shakespeare and Shaw acting sequences simultaneously, a feat that was a learning opportunity. "I was just pushing myself too hard," Colbert remembers. "I weighed about as much as a kitten." Now, as he takes on bigger and bigger challenges as an actor and comedian, he knows that perspective is an important part of the daily grind. 

"One hundred and sixty shows a year is just...can't be done," Colbert says, referring to The Colbert Report. "Early in this process, I started calling this place 'the joy machine.' Because if it's not a joy machine, it's just a can get caught in the gears."

Read the full Northwestern magazine profile on Stephen Colbert.

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