There are a few things you probably don’t know about Stephen Colbert. He is a Christian and he’s unapologetic about it. He’s an ordained minister and he teaches Sunday school. Obviously, these characteristics don’t come up too often at his day job – certainly not while performing in character on The Colbert Report and not often now that he plays himself on The Late Show. Late-night comedy and religion aren’t exactly two peas in a pod.
It came up last week, though, during Colbert’s interview with Oprah. The former queen of daytime television visited The Late Show to promote Belief, an upcoming miniseries on her cable network that will explore the origins and impacts of different religions. Oprah shared that when she was younger, she’d been “a little preacher.” Her peers called her little preacher girl and she remembered Bible verses and passages. This gave Colbert the opportunity to ask Oprah her favorite verse. Oprah fell right back into her interviewing mode and asked Colbert what his verse was.
Colbert did not hesitate with his answer. “Mine’s from Matthew. I like it because 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.”
Then it was Oprah’s turn. “Mine is Psalms 37:4,” she said. “‘Delight thyself’—I love that word ‘delight,’ don’t you? I’m so glad that David knew it,” she said (referring to King David, the author of the Psalms).
She continued, quoting the full verse, “Delight thyself in the Lord. He will give you the desires of your heart.”
I think we can agree that this is not your typical late night conversation. However, this certainly is not the first time Colbert has discussed his faith publicly and it isn’t even the first time he has brought up religion with a guest on his show. During his faith-infused interview with Joe Biden—a fellow Catholic—Colbert asked his guest, “How did you maintain your real soul in a city that is so filled with people who are trying to lie to us in subtle ways?”
Colbert continued the religious discussion with Oprah by asking if she believes there is a distinction between “belief” and “faith.”
“Yeah, there is,” she replied. “Because there are a lot of people who don’t think they’re faithful people, but have beliefs. 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, on the other hand, she continued, “is very different, I think.” Faith “is knowing that no matter what, you’re going to be okay. And I’ve always been a part of that faithful.”
I don’t know how these types of conversations will play with the wide secular audience of The Late Show but it’s pretty cool to have such famous figures discussing theology on this kind of national forum.
However, the two took the opportunity to appreciate the context of their quasi-theological discussion. When Oprah shared her favorite Bible verse with him, Colbert responded not just with a nod of recognition, but with a perfectly Colbert retort. “Oh, David was into delighting himself,” he said.
This is a late-night comedy show, after all.