This isn’t related to anything recent — The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are in reruns this week — but I once did a post on my least-favourite Colbert Report segment (Tek Jansen, of course), and it occurred to me that I never said what my favourite segment is. And that’s an easy one to answer: my favourite recurring segment on any talk/variety show is Colbert’s “Cheating Death With Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A.” Every time he does that segment, I give a little internal cheer (internal cheering, by the way, is something that I should see a doctor about).
What I love about that segment is that, like most of the best Colbert segments, it’s both a comedy routine and part of a larger ongoing story about this character and his show. The format is rigid: jokes about some health-related thing in the news, followed by Colbert plugging a drug by his sponsor, Prescott Pharmaceuticals, and reading off a list of crazy side effects (usually arrived at by mashing up two or more real-life medicinal side effects into something that sounds even worse). The ritual of hearing Colbert trying to get through the side effects without cracking up is a big part of the fun. But the Prescott Group has taken on a life of its own through these segments; their evil, incompetence and willingness to risk people’s lives to make a buck has made them almost a separate character on The Colbert Report even though I don’t think we’ve ever seen a representative of the company — though that might come later. What we have seen already is Colbert going through the vetting process for a White House job, and being confronted with a list of the Prescott-approved side effects created by the drugs he’s been plugging on his show. And though his character is clearly making money off the company (since his face is all over their products), he tries to deny responsibilty for any of their products, a commentary on media figures and politicians who feign independence from their corporate sponsors. It’s a two-layered segment: cheap jokes with a story arc.
I will say, though, that “Monkey On the Lam” would give “Cheating Death” a run for its money if Colbert used it more often. If only because the graphic is the greatest thing ever.