Unlike some of his late-night contemporaries—Bill Maher, John Oliver, etc.—Stephen Colbert is a devout Christian.The limber host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert grew up the youngest of 11 children in a very Roman Catholic family, and was raised in Charleston, South Carolina. He attended an Episcopal school there, and is an ordained minister who teaches Sunday school. In the lead-up to the Late Show premiere, Colbert even sat down for a rare, remarkably candid interview about his faith with Father Thomas Rosica, media attaché to the Holy See Press Office, for his show Witness.
So when Colbert welcomed the one-and-only Oprah Winfrey on his show to promote her new OWN series Belief, a seven-night television event exploring the origins of various faiths, the two outsized personalities got downright Biblical.
But first, Oprah patted the newly minted late-night host on the back by sharing a little story from her past. Commenting on Colbert’s brilliant marketing campaign and ubiquity, with Late Show ads appearing the back of every bus, she remarked, “When I was moving from Nashville to Baltimore as a young reporter, I had a smaller campaign, but I was on billboards and buses. This was, like, 1976. And the campaign was, ‘What is an Oprah?’ And when I came on the air it was just me, and people were like, ‘That’s Oprah?!’ It’s a hard thing to live up to, but you did it!”
Then, the two got down to the main topic of the night: faith.Oprah claimed to have come up with the idea during what she calls “one of my darkest moments, when I was forming the network [OWN].” She says SNL architect Lorne Michaels went up to her and warned, “Oh, baby, you’re gonna be in for a huge learning curve. It’s going to take you five years and it’s going to be harder than anything you’ve ever done.” Oprah, brimming with self-belief, felt it would be easier than that—but the criticisms still got to her.
“When people were saying those kinds of things, when you’re challenged in life, I find that going deeper inside yourself to ask the question, ‘What do I really want? Why did I make this decision?’ [is best],” she told Colbert. “I had seen a Planet Earth done by the great Discovery Channel, and I wanted to create something that spoke to the spirit of us all: Planet Spirit.”
Since the show is titled Belief, Colbert asked Oprah if she felt there was a difference between belief and faith.“Yeah, there is. Because there are a lot of people who don’t think they’re faithful people, but have beliefs,” Oprah said. “You cannot be in the world without believing in something, even if you don’t call it a deity. So there are people who believe in working hard and striving for their best, but don’t necessarily have a religious belief.”“Faith is very different, I think,” she continued. “Faith is knowing that no matter what, you’re going to be OK. And I’ve always been a part of that faithful. I used to be a little preacher—I’m talking 7, 8, 9, 12, 15. When I was in third grade, people used to [say], ‘Here comes that preacher girl again!’ I was preaching the gospel, yes I was. I remembered the Bible verses and passages.”On cue, Colbert probed Oprah about her favorite Bible verse, but she first redirected the question back at Colbert, who kindly obliged her.“Mine’s from Matthew,” said Colbert. “I like it ’cause Jesus says, ‘So I say to you do not worry, for who among you by worrying could change a hair on his head, or add a cubit to the span of his life?’ What I like about it is that it’s a commandment to not worry, and I’ll go with that.”Oprah went next. “Mine is Psalms 37:4. ‘Delight thyself’—I love that word ‘delight,’ don’t you? I’m so glad that David knew it,” she said.“Oh, David was into delighting himself,” joked Colbert, firing off a nice little Biblical-masturbation joke, and the two erupted in laughter.
“‘Delight thyself in the Lord. He will give you the desires of your heart,’” Oprah said. “Now what that says to me, Lord has a wide range. What is Lord? Compassion, love, forgiveness, kindness. So you delight yourself in those virtues where the character of the Lord is revealed. Delight thyself in goodness, delight thyself in love, kindness, and compassion, and you will receive the desires of your heart. It says to me, if you focus on being a force for good, good things will come.”
According to Oprah, the mission of Belief is to make people “be more accepting”—a noble endeavor, naturally. “We live in a world where people just try to tolerate each other. Not that hard, either. And I want to say, my God people, it’s just the planet Earth, and we’re all different, and we’re all here to accept each other’s differences. And that’s what makes us the planet Earth,” she said, in true Oprah we are the world fashion.
One of Colbert’s favorite segments on Belief is a story in Budapest focused on a young man, Mendl, who’s about to experience his first Bar Mitzvah.
“I go to church and I am somewhat religious, and when I try to explain it to some people who aren’t, or that I have a belief, is that I say, well, I was given this by my ancestors,” said Colbert. “And I look at my children and I go, well, I love them and I wouldn’t want to give them anything that I didn’t think would help them, so I assume I was given this by my ancestors because they gave it to me to try to help me, and I open it like a box and I wonder what’s inside, but I don’t think I’ve gotten to the bottom at any point. I keep taking the gift out. But it’s not the only gift you can get, I accept that.”“Boy, you’re deep,” Oprah replied.
Indeed, Colbert may be the deepest late-night host around.