Here is the GQ article to which Bishop-elect Barron refers to below:
It was early July, about nine weeks before the debut of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and we were sitting in his temporary office above a BMW dealership on the far west side of Manhattan. He looked very tired, and he was apologizing (unnecessarily) for rambling on in a way that was maybe a little uncomfortably overemotional. “I didn’t leave the studio until 2 A.M. last night,” he said. “Didn’t get to bed until three, and I’ve been traveling and just got here—.”
He’d been up late doing a strange stunt the night before, stepping in unannounced as host of Only in Monroe, a local public-access program in Monroe, Michigan, about forty miles south of Detroit. There was all sorts of pressure on their first show, he said. “First show! First show! Well, f@#% the first show. There’s going to be 202 this year—how do you do a first one? So I just wanted to go do a show someplace. And now we’ve done it.”
The idea was to do Only in Monroe more or less as it always is—same production values, same set and graphics and crew—just a ton more jokes. His first guests were the show’s regular hosts, Michelle Bowman and (former Miss America) Kaye Lani Rae Rafko Wilson. (Colbert on-air: “I’m not sure how many people that is.”) He did Monroe news and the Monroe calendar, and about twenty minutes in, he brought out his next guest, “a local Michigander who is making a name for himself in the competitive world of music, Marshall Mathers.”
We were talking about the logistics involved in pulling off something like this, and how great it felt for him to be improvising in front of a camera again, and the curious tensions that popped up in his interview with Eminem. And then we got onto the subject of discomfort and disorientation, and the urge he has to seek out those feelings, and from there it was a quick jump to the nature of suffering. Before long we were sitting there with a plate of roast chicken and several bottles of Cholula on the table between us, both of us rubbing tears from our eyes. “The level of emotion you’re getting from me right now—I’m not saying it’s dishonest,” he said. “I’m just saying it’s not normal. I’d really love to go to bed. I promise you, I do not spend my time on the edge of tears.”
I’ve easily played the recording of that conversation a dozen times, only one of them in order to transcribe. And while we spent plenty of time talking about comedy and the conventions of late-night and the sheer practical challenge of doing a show twice as long as his old one—the thing I’ve been thinking about the most since my time with Colbert is loss. The losses he’s experienced in his life, yes, but really the meaning we all make of our losses. Deaths of loved ones, the phases of our children’s lives hurtling by, jobs and relationships we never imagined would end. All of it. Among other things, our lives are compendiums of loss and change and what we make of it. I’ve never met anyone who’s faced that reality more meaningfully than Stephen Colbert. I suppose, more than anything, that’s what this story is about.
Also: ball jokes. Or the absence of them. They’re doing network now, after all, and Colbert has declared a moratorium on ball jokes. (I believe I was present for the last one. It involved Greece and the Eurozone—and Paul Krugman’s balls.)
They did the public-access show live at midnight, with no advance publicity and no Twitter or Facebook posts afterward. The only way the world would ever know that it happened is if someone, an insomniac or an inmate or one of the show’s twelve viewers, looked up at the screen at some point and recognized Colbert hanging out with Eminem next to the potted plant. Maybe that person would tell somebody, and maybe that other person would tweet about it.
“I have to check right now to see how many people have seen this f#@%er,” Colbert said. “When we showed it at midnight, nobody watched it. I mean nobody…. We dug a hole in the backyard, yelled a show into it, then covered it up with dirt and said, ‘Don’t tell anybody.’ ”
Someone must have spotted him on the show’s morning rerun, because Twitter was beginning to light up in confusion and amazement. “YouTube has frozen the count,” he said. “They usually do that when people are hitting it so fast they go, ‘Wait, this might be bots.’ ” He seemed really pleased with how this experiment in pure virality was playing out. “We worked really hard for no one to know it was happening,” he said, “to see if anybody would know that it was happening.”
The question that has been hanging over the entire Late Show staff since last December, when Colbert put to rest the righteous blowhard he’d played for the past nine years, was: Who will he be now that he’s no longer in character? How will his style change—and his opinions be expressed—if he’s not delivering his jokes through an imbecile’s mouth? When you’re speaking to a huge swath of America each night, can you still carry a knife?
It’s interesting to watch his interview with Eminem with this in mind. The whole thing is great, but there are a few spots that are electric, because we assume that Eminem is in on the conceit—that Colbert is playing a character who is aggressively ignorant of who he is—and yet he appears in these moments to be totally baffled by what’s going on. “I’m so confused right now,” Eminem says at one point. “I’m trying to figure out if you’re serious.” Colbert remains stubbornly, insultingly in character. “I’d like to apologize,” he says, “if you’re a bigger deal than I know about.” Eminem stares back at him in disbelief. “Are you serious right now?” he says again. “I’m trying to figure out if you’re serious right now.” Colbert straightens in his chair. “You seem pretty mad,” he says. And it’s true, he does! If Eminem’s reaction were purely a performance, there would be a very different energy there. We’d just be watching two guys play make-believe. But something else is going on. It’s so subtle and (I imagine) unintentional, but in his sly execution of the conceit, Colbert is pushing them toward something more real than if he’d played it straight—difficult questions of ego and fame.
“I don’t know what parts of the interview he, like, truly doesn’t know what the f#@%’s going on,” Colbert said. “But yeah, I think there were times when he was genuinely confused.”
Shedding the suit of the high-status dummy he played for nine years has liberated him to do the comedy he really wants to do, he said. Whatever comes next—however he shape-shifts between being recognizably himself and playing a veiled or not-so-thinly-veiled character—the motivation will be all his. “I just want to do things that scratch an itch for me. That itch is often something that feels wrong. It’s wrong because it breaks convention or is unexpected or at times uncomfortable. I like that feeling.”
The old character was “a continual style joke,” he said, and that style, punditry, had been a reaction to a time when O’Reilly and Limbaugh and the rest of the shouters exerted a real gravitational pull on the American psyche. For however often Jon Stewart and Colbert dismissed the notion that they had any mission beyond the (very difficult) one of telling great jokes, they had become a portal through which viewers made sense of American insanity. Their shows served as dense clouds of satirical antimatter.
And then things changed, slowly. America is different now. There will never be a shortage of daily atrocities to be satirized, but Colbert began to strain against the limitations of the character he played—“to have to pull everything through the keyhole of his worldview.” Even before CBS offered him the Late Show gig, he had decided to shut The Colbert Report down.
“I no longer felt that that model served to address the national mood,” he said. Ten years ago, the country was palpably more afraid and angry. “We’re in a different place now.” Gay marriage. The reasonable and occasionally unifying course of the Obama administration. “We can stop freaking out that the guy’s middle name is Hussein,” he said. “What else? Our response to the horror in South Carolina is to take the flag down. That is something I didn’t think was ever going to happen.”
Publishing bylaws practically require a comparison at this point between the styles of Jimmy and Conan and James and Jimmy and Seth and Carson and now Colbert. But it feels silly to think about him in those terms. He’s so unlike anyone else on television, or even anyone in TV memory, that the real question becomes what kind of public figure will emerge over time, and how much influence he’ll have beyond the nightly delivery of great jokes (again, so hard to do that!).
When I raised the idea that he was one of the country’s few public moral intellectuals, and that there were plenty of people out there wondering how that role might express itself in the new show, he said, “I have a morality. I don’t know if it’s the best morality. And I do like thinking. If people perceive that as a moral intellectualism, that’s fine. That’s up to them to decide. A friend of mine once said, ‘If someone says you’re influencing them, then you’re influential. It’s not up for you to say. You can’t take that away from them.’ But it’s entirely not my intention. This I promise you. Because that’s a short road to being a comedian in all seriousness. ‘As a comedian, in all seriousness, let me not entertain you.’ ”
Three days after the massacre in Charleston, Colbert returned to his hometown to lay flowers at the steps of Emanuel AME and join the peace march across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. He described it as the most moving and affirming gathering he’d ever witnessed. I know I wasn’t alone, though, in wishing he had been on the air—and not because the country needed a laugh, obviously. What the country needed was a model for how to see and think and be. Jon Stewart went a long way toward providing that, with his I have no jokes opening monologue and his quiet, contained-rage attack on political opportunism. But the voice I selfishly longed for was Colbert’s.
“We would have done it, if we had to,” he said when I asked if any part of him had felt a desire to talk about it on the air. “But no,” he said. “It’s such an old form of a particular evil. Such a pure form, that it feels very old. It was like a dragon showed up. Like, yeah, there used to be dragons. I didn’t know there still were dragons…and I don’t necessarily crave facing that dragon with my little sword.” He paused for a moment and looked down at the table. “Tragedy is sacred,” he said. “People’s suffering is sacred.”
We took a ride one day from the temporary offices over to the completely gutted Ed Sullivan Theater. Along the way, Colbert talked about watching that week’s episode of The Bachelorette with his family. His wife and daughter were sitting on the sofa wearing facial masks, and he decided to join them, he said, because the woman who does his makeup told him he had to get better at moisturizing. “I have a face like a catcher’s mitt.” He went into the bathroom and dug through a pile of products and found one that, after you smear it on, congeals over your face in a thick golden gel. He pulled up a picture of him and his son both wearing it. “You know what it looks like?” he said. He thumbed in a search on his phone. “Here. Look at this. The Death Mask of Agamemnon.”
Inside there were scaffolds everywhere, including one in the middle of the floor that rose to the top of the theater’s dome, which had been blocked for decades by air ducts and sound buffers and was now being fully restored. There’s a massive wooden chandelier up there that predates Ed Sullivan and has individual stained-glass chambers that house its bulbs. We climbed to the top, and after running a few questions by the guys working up there (turns out that whoever’s job it was to change the bulbs all those years ago used to stub out his cigars and leave them in the chandelier), Colbert wandered over to the edge of the scaffolding to look at the scene depicted in the arched stained-glass windows that had also been revealed. “Look at that lute player,” he said, and then he gave a quick little off-the-cuff lecture on Venetian-Moorish design.
The micro level at which he is involved in every aspect of preparations is bewildering. He moved so quickly throughout the theater, followed by a small phalanx of architects and designers and contractors. He climbed small hidden ladders in the wings to stand on exposed beams and demonstrate how he needed sneak doors to swing. He headed down below stage level, into what will be either a writers’ room or a greenroom, to propose how an air-conditioning duct be rerouted. In every moment of every conversation, his focus on the person in front of him and the logistical conundrum at hand was complete. He never showed frustration, never seemed overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff coming at him. If you didn’t know he was the talent and came upon that scene with a van full of HVAC parts, you’d definitely be like, Oh, that’s the guy I need to ask where to install these.
There were so many details to consider. The arc of the stage and the exact angle of his desk and if Jon Batiste’s band should be on one level or two. (Jon wants to be able to look into the eyes of the drummer, which makes sense, but there were other aesthetic and practical concerns to weigh, too.) Would the panels behind his desk be just one shade of cobalt, or could they get a range of cobalts? What about the bulbs? Does it need to be LED, or can we use strips of good old GE bulbs?
Back at his office, Colbert delivered a soliloquy on the necessity of focus and intention, being fully present for whatever moment you are in. He was talking about comedy, and how to make a TV show 200 times a year, but it also felt like a text lifted from the Buddha’s sutras. The final goal, the product, is beside the point. “The end product is jokes, but you could easily say the end product is intention. Having intentionality at all times… The process of process is process.”
And then he talked about the Food Network show Chopped. The reason he loves Chopped is that it’s a show that is wholly about process, about creation within a limited range of possibilities. “This show,” he said, meaning The Late Show, “is Chopped. Late-night shows are Chopped. Who are your guests tonight? Your guests tonight are veal tongue, coffee grounds, and gummy bears. There, make a show.… Make an appetizer that appeals to millions of people. That’s what I like. How could you possibly do it? Oh, you bring in your own flavors. Your own house band is another flavor. You have your own flavor. The audience itself is a base dish, like a rice pilaf or something. And then together it’s ‘Oh s#@%, that’s an actual meal.’ And that’s what every day is like at one of these shows. Something is one thing in the morning, and then by the end of the day it’s a totally different thing. It’s all process.”
Earlier that day the world went haywire for a few hours. The New York Stock Exchange went offline, and at that point nobody knew why. Stocks in China were cratering. United Airlines grounded hundreds of flights because of computer glitches. In a morning pitch meeting, one of the show’s writers got a news alert, and they decided to try to put together a video to be released online later that day. They’d been doing this once or twice a week, as a way of keeping the tools sharp and their audience engaged.
Early afternoon, a handful of writers and producers filed into Colbert’s office and passed the script around. The gist was that technology had failed us, and Colbert, possibly the last celebrity alive, had barricaded himself in a room with piles of office supplies and snack foods and a chicken with which he would procreate and start civilization anew. He started reading the script in character, rewriting bits on the fly, and those updates were typed into an updated script that would be loaded into a monitor for the shoot.
They finished the script, and he headed off to check out the set, which had been thrown together in a small, windowless room—“the bad room,” they call it—that some writers normally work in. The desk in the bad room was now covered with piles of papers and snacks and a jug labeled urine. There was a tire and a thick rope and a mound of those little coffee K-Cups in assorted flavors.
A woman carrying the chicken arrived and stood in the hall outside the bad room. “They only gave me a half hour’s notice,” she told me, and then described how she had to drive several miles to her farm in Jersey to find the one she’d recently used in an episode of Orange Is the New Black.
Colbert appeared from makeup and said, “Hi, great to see you again. Come on in,” and led her into the bad room, where they cleared a spot for her and the chicken beneath the desk. The whole shoot took about twenty minutes and ended with the chicken flying out of his arms (“She’s scrappy!”) and then Colbert realizing that the one thing he forgot to bring into his bunker was the K-Cup machine. He bites into one of the plastic K-Cups in despair. The coffee grounds go all over his face and mouth and up his nose. “Oh, that’s really pumpkin-y.” End scene.
He went to the bathroom to wash the coffee out of his nose and then as he was heading back to his office got an update on a request they’d made to Mitt Romney to do a teaser spot for the new show. They felt it was important that their first fun interaction with a politician involve a Republican. (“I think he’ll do it,” Colbert said. “I think he likes to have fun. Plus, he’s got nothing else going on.”) Then it was into a meeting with various camera techs and graphic artists to discuss complicated questions regarding how images might be projected onto the surfaces of the new theater (I’m sworn to silence on this, but the stuff they were talking about was very cool), and from there he headed to an editing bay down the hall.
He took a seat on the floor to watch a replay of the video—“Apocalypse Dow”—and give notes. “I am high as a kite right now!” he said. “I tried to wash my nose out, but all I did was brew a cup of pumpkin-spice coffee in my nose.”
“Everybody was jumping in. Everybody was saying, ‘What is an unasked added value that I can give the show?’ ” Colbert said. “And that is true joy. That’s the joy machine.”
The next hour goes by so fast. They make their way through the video, beat by beat. The look on Colbert’s face as he edits is pure focus and elation. He moves his lips along with the lines, he mimics the changing expression of his face in the scene. His notes are hyper-detailed. Cut this line. It’s gotta be faster from here to here. Let’s make the screen go warbly-staticky every time I hit the desk. No, still too clean, more static. Do we know yet what actually happened with the stock exchange? Someone mentions there was a tweet by a member of Anonymous yesterday, warning of something to come. Okay, let’s get a standard Getty image of a Guy Fawkes mask and insert it, just a flicker, during one of the warbles. Just one. Subtle. It needs to warble like everything else in the picture. Let’s look at the news clips for the top. Okay, let’s do these five in this order. No, still too long. It’s gotta go: United, China, cyber-failure, Wall Street, poodle. I want a static cut between each of the clips, then longer static after the poodle, and that transitions into me.
He leaves the editing room and heads back to his office and learns along the way that Mitt Romney is in for shooting the teaser, they’ll bring him in for a day from New Hampshire—“Yeah, Daddy-o!”—then stops at his assistant’s desk, and she reminds him that he still has to record a podcast and not to forget that he has the thing for Catholic Charities.
It’s a little after seven, and the sun’s starting to set over the Hudson River. There are several bottles of expensive bourbon in his office, and he pours a glass for each of us and then sits down and exhales.
“That was fun,” he says. “What you just saw me do—the number of things you saw me talk to people about, the number of different things—you saw like four different tags on a single idea.… That’s it. That’s what liking process gets you to, the ability to process a great deal of information. And everybody in this building can do it. Everybody was jumping in. Everybody had ideas. Everybody was saying, ‘What is an unasked added value that I can give the show?’ And that is true joy. That’s the joy machine.”
He used to have a note taped to his computer that read, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the existence of God.”
It’s hard to imagine any comedian meditating every day on so sincere a message. It’s even harder when you know his life story, which bears mentioning here—that he is the youngest of eleven kids and that his father and two of his brothers, Peter and Paul, the two closest to him in age, were killed in a plane crash when he was 10. His elder siblings were all off to school or on with their lives by then, and so it was just him and his mother at home together for years. They moved from James Island to downtown Charleston, and she sent him to a prep school, Porter-Gaud, where for the next several years he did next to nothing academically. “There was no way to threaten me,” he said. “It was like, ‘What? What’s that? Oh, okay, I might get a bad grade? Oh no. Wouldn’t want that.’”
His first night professionally onstage with Second City, Colbert learned the most important lesson of his career: “You have to learn to love the bomb.”
He was completely traumatized, of course. And one way of contending with the cruel indifference of the universe is to be indifferent in return. But he was also raised in a deeply Catholic intellectual family (his father had been a dean of Yale Medical School and St. Louis University and the Medical College of South Carolina). And so his rebellion against the world was curiously self-driven and thoughtful. He refused to do anything his teachers required of him, but would come home every day and shut himself in his room and read books. “I had so many books taken away from me,” he said. “I read a book a day. Spent all of my allowance on books. Every birthday, confirmation, Christmas—books, please, stacks of books.”
He barely graduated from high school and then went to Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia only because a friend had applied there. He studied philosophy; he joined the school’s theater troupe. After his sophomore year he transferred to Northwestern’s theater program, where he was purely focused on drama. “I was doing Stanislavsky and Meisner, and I was sharing my pain with everyone around me,” he says in an interview that appears in Judd Apatow’s book Sick in the Head. “It was therapy as much as it was anything.”
And then he met Del Close, the legendary improv teacher and mentor and champion of the idea that improvisational comedy, when performed purely, was in fact high expressive art.
“I went, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I have to do it,’ ” he said. “I have to get up onstage and perform extemporaneously with other people.” He was part of the same Second City class that included Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello and Chris Farley. “Our first night professionally onstage,” he said, the longtime Second City director Jeff Michalski told them that the most important lesson he could pass on to them was this: “You have to learn to love the bomb.”
“It took me a long time to really understand what that meant,” Colbert said. “It wasn’t ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.” (You’re welcome, Dune nerds.)
The central tension in his life, he said, is between being a “reasonably friendly, good-at-a-cocktail-party guy” and walking around the world feeling like he’s not quite a part of it. “I’m a very uncomfortable person,” he said. “I really like people, and I also don’t always know what to do with them.… I have always had an eclectic roster of friends, but there’s something about my work that speaks to a deep discomfort with being in society.”
He said he trained himself, not just onstage but every day in life, even in his dream states, to steer toward fear rather than away from it. “I like to do things that are publicly embarrassing,” he said, “to feel the embarrassment touch me and sink into me and then be gone. I like getting on elevators and singing too loudly in that small space. The feeling you feel is almost like a vapor. The discomfort and the wishing that it would end that comes around you. I would do things like that and just breathe it in.” He stopped and took in a deep yogic breath, then slowly shook his head. “Nope, can’t kill me. This thing can’t kill me.”
I apologized for the lack of subtlety and asked him how much he connected that urge to his training, and how much he felt it had roots that went deeper into his life. Was it at one point purely a defense mechanism against the pain he’d experienced?
He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know, Doctor. You tell me.”
And then he said, “Obviously there’s something defensive about it. What you’re doing is sipping little bits of arsenic so that you can’t be poisoned by the rest of your discomfort. You’re Rasputin-ing your way through the rest of your life.”
That day after he got back from Michigan, we eventually got around to the question of how it could possibly be that he suffered the losses he’s suffered and somehow arrived here. It’s not just that he doesn’t exhibit any of the anger or open-woundedness of so many other comedians; it’s that he appears to be so genuinely grounded and joyful.
He sat silently for a while and then smiled. “Yeeeahhhh,” he said. “I’m not angry. I’m not. I’m mystified, I’ll tell you that. But I’m not angry.”
There were such depths in the way he said “mystified.”
“That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”
It was hard to talk about these things, he said. “I want to answer in ways that are not pat. And so I want to take a moment and think of a way to answer that isn’t pre-packaged.”
There was a time when he’d done a lot of press for his old show, which inevitably entailed answering some version of this question over and over. And then he decided to stop, refusing even to do any exit interviews when The Colbert Report came to an end. “I can’t imagine why anyone wants to hear anything about me anymore,” he said. “This is not meant as resistance, or pejoratively. I’m just being honest.” And so the challenge was “to find a way to do press that isn’t just a carbonated version of a drink I brewed many, many years ago. Just throw effervescence into a drink I’ve already brewed.”
He didn’t have to do this. He was exhausted. He had so many other things to do that day, meetings stacked up for the next few hours, people peeking in through his office window hoping to grab a moment of his time. He could have certainly given a version of the answer he’s given before. Or he could have said, Come on, man, right now? Just let me eat my chicken with hot sauce in peace, will you?
Instead he said, “So my reaction when I hear that question isn’t”—he shifted into a somber, sonorous voice—“ ‘Oh, I don’t want to talk about that.’ It’s that I don’t want to say this—ready?” He snapped his fingers and locked eyes with me in a pose of dramatic intensity. “MY. MOTHER.” His face softened. “But the answer is: my mother.”
He lifted his arms as if to take in the office, the people working and laughing outside his door, the city and the sky, all of it. “And the world,” he said. “It’s so…lovely. I’m very grateful to be alive, even though I know a lot of dead people.” The urge to be grateful, he said, is not a function of his faith. It’s not “the Gospel tells us” and therefore we give thanks. It is what he has always felt: grateful to be alive. “And so that act, that impulse to be grateful, wants an object. That object I call God. Now, that could be many things. I was raised in a Catholic tradition. I’ll start there. That’s my context for my existence, is that I am here to know God, love God, serve God, that we might be happy with each other in this world and with Him in the next—the catechism. That makes a lot of sense to me. I got that from my mom. And my dad. And my siblings.”
He was tracing an arc on the table with his fingers and speaking with such deliberation and care. “I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died…. And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.
“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”
I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.
I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”
He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.
“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.”
Consider that this is coming from a man who millions of people will soon watch on their televisions every night—if only there were a way to measure the virality of this, which he’ll never say on TV, I imagine, but which, as far as I can tell, he practices every waking minute of his life.
The next thing he said I wrote on a slip of paper in his office and have carried it around with me since. It’s our choice, whether to hate something in our lives or to love every moment of them, even the parts that bring us pain. “At every moment, we are volunteers.”
JOEL LOVELL is an editor for This American Life and a story editor at The Atavist Magazine.