Seth Mnookin in Vanity Fair.
Colbert’s character, which grew out of his role as the most noxious and ill-informed of Stewart’s on-air correspondents, is most definitely not the type of guy you’d want to share a beer with after work. If Colbert’s show were to succeed, it would need its fans to embrace the type of grating know-it-all they would normally disdain. One of the ways the show attempted to do this was by having its audience affect the mob mentality from which Colbert’s character drew his power. That way, viewers weren’t just in on the joke, they were part of it.
“This show is not about me,” Colbert explained his first night on the air. “No, this program is dedicated to you, the heroes.… On this show your voice will be heard, in the form of my voice.” Colbert went on to define the show’s ruling ethos as “truthiness,” an almost Nietzschean philosophy inspired by President Bush’s faith in those that “know with their heart” as opposed to those who “think with their head.” If one part of the subtext here was how terrifying “truthiness” was in a world leader, another was that having the will to bend reality to reflect your every desire actually sounded pretty cool—as Colbert’s id-driven character promised to demonstrate night after night.