Stephen Colbert in College: 'I Had a Chest Like a Baby Duck'

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Northwestern Magazine

During Stephen Colbert's undergraduate years at Northwestern University, he dabbled in the world of theater—and foam body suits. For one show, Pélléas and Mélisande, he needed a little help to look the part, and donned some body armor. "Not that I wasn't ripped at the time," Colbert quips. "I had a chest like a baby duck."  In an interview with Northwestern Magazine, he reveals that before he discovered comedy, he thought he was destined to be a serious, dramatic actor:

During this period of his life he has described himself as a self-important "poet/jerk," planning on a serious acting career and walking around in black turtlenecks. Yet he'd already discovered Chicago improv. Colbert says friend Chris Pfaff (C87) first took him to the now-defunct Crosscurrents club in Chicago to see teams at the fledgling ImprovOlympic, now iO, perform "the Harold," an improv game invented by iO founders Del Close and Charna Halpern.

"I said, 'I have to do this. I have to improvise,'" Colbert recalls. "I just loved going onstage with nothing planned and, through agreement, trying to create a one-act play, which is what they did." Colbert began performing weekly with a Northwestern improv team called No Fun Mud Piranhas, which included David Schwimmer (C88), later of Friends fame. "I still have my No Fun Mud Piranhas T-shirt," Colbert notes proudly.

According to college friends and teachers, Colbert hasn't changed much since he was 21. And that's a good thing. He's still, most say, the same kind, down-to-earth guy he was as an undergraduate. That's apparent from his bashfulness upon accepting compliments from his adoring public:

At his Manhattan office, told about the accolades from his Northwestern classmates and professors, real Colbert responds first with classic TV Colbert bravado. "Fooled 'em. Fooled 'em again!" he barks.Then he gives up and lays his head on his desk, face down, in pure mortification.

Read the full story at Northwestern Magazine.


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Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation. A former Slate editorial assistant, she also previously wrote for and produced the Atlantic's International Channel.

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