Home > Interviews, Radio > NPR: Stephen Colbert: In Good ‘Company’ On Broadway

NPR: Stephen Colbert: In Good ‘Company’ On Broadway

The audio for Stephen’s interview on “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” will be available at 5:00PM (ET).

Exclusive Web Audio: Stephen: “When I’m brushing my hair in the morning, which is quite an event”.

In the mean time here is a wonderful summary:

“I imagined myself living in New York in some sort of open large-but-sparse studio apartment with a lot of blond wood and a futon on the floor and a bubbling samovar or tea in the background and a big beard — living alone but with my beard — and doing theater,” he says. “That’s what I thought my life would be. It has not been — and I love what I do — but to be asked to do this and then to accept the challenge of it … I can la-di-da my way through things … but to sing Sondheim is a completely different beast.”

Let Me Entertain You

It was Sondheim, in fact, who wanted Colbert to perform in Company. After appearing on Colbert’s show, Sondheim invited Colbert to appear in the production. But Colbert’s agent turned the role down, saying that there was absolutely no way Colbert could fit the limited engagement into his busy taping schedule. That’s when Sondheim wrote Colbert a personal note.

“[He said that] against his instincts, he had a good time on my show and would I consider playing Harry in Company?” he says. “And he ended the letter with the sentence ‘You have a perfect voice for musical theater.’ And I read it to my wife and she said, ‘Boy, you have to do this. No one, let alone Stephen Sondheim is going to ask you to do Sondheim.’ And I said, ‘You’re right, I have to do it.'”

Once he was cast, Colbert started taking voice lessons and gained a new respect, he says, for professional singers. “What I rediscovered was the therapeutic nature of singing lessons,” he says. “They’re like doing yoga but for [the] inside of your body. You open up and use muscles that you don’t think of as malleable … You can turn your head into a bell … that’s what we kept working on: resonance and projection and relaxation and just remembering or relearning how to breathe through a phrase. The technical aspects of it are fascinating to go through in the lessons. And then you have to forget all of it, and sing.”

Because of the cast members’ busy schedules, most of the rehearsals were conducted via the Internet. Colbert was given recordings of his harmonies and told to practice them alone. The cast got together infrequently to rehearse their lines and choreography — and then performed live at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic.

“On one level, it was impossible,” he says, of the limited run engagement. “In another way, it was the only way it could have gotten done — because you couldn’t have gotten all of these people to commit to doing Company. … I literally left rehearsal for Company [one night] and went and did “Friday” on Jimmy Fallon and then went back to Company. It was just a tremendous experience.”

In The Company Of The Colbert Report

Colbert says he specifically chose not to mention his role in Company on his show The Colbert Report for two reasons. The first, he says, was to protect the production from any kind of “fake” endorsements.

“People could ascribe an insincerity to the things that I tout on the show,” he explains. “And I didn’t want to ascribe any insincerity to trying to go do this [musical] at Lincoln Center. Because I knew that I was dealing with somebody else’s delicate product and I didn’t want to invest it with my character’s ego.”

The second reason he chose not to mention Company on The Report, says Colbert, is that he was worried that his performance wouldn’t live up to his expectations.

“I had no idea if I wanted anyone to know I was doing it, because I knew how hard it was going to be,” he says. “I was afraid I would suck. I don’t mind failing so much, but I am a perfectionist. … If you’re a perfectionist and you know you’re about to do something at which you cannot be perfect … then that is daunting because you know what your heart is like and the way you approach your work. … It was difficult to say ‘Hold onto your socks America, I’m singing Sondheim.'”

After the production’s run, Colbert sent a note to Sondheim, thanking him for getting him into “the most joyous trouble” he’s ever been in.

“I tell a lot of young performers, ‘Go get in trouble. Go commit yourself to something you’re not sure you can do,'” he says. “And I followed my own advice. It was something I desperately wanted to do — not as a career — but an invitation I knew I couldn’t refuse and yet had no sense of whether or not I could do it. And that is trouble — but it was all so joyful. I’m very grateful to Mr. Sondheim that he got me in such trouble.”

Source: NPR.org

(Thanks to Gratefull and Therese for the link)

  1. June 15, 2011 at 3:40 AM

    There are so many amazing things in this interview I cannot even begin to comprehend them all. I seriously cannot wait for the full audio to be posted!!

    The hair brush toss is seriously to cute!!


  2. lockhart43
    June 15, 2011 at 3:48 AM

    It has been a looooooong day at work, so I can’t tell you how excited I am for this! His interviews on Fresh Air are always absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to download the podcast and relax at home just listening to this interview.


  3. colbaby
    June 15, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    Oh my good lord, the bit about the hair brush. Haha. I can totally picture that (hang on…nobody talk for a minute…) I actually do have OCD, but I’ve never been compelled to flip my brush seven times while brushing my hair. Now that he said that though…It’s like telling someone ‘don’t tap on the glass’ or ‘don’t touch that, it’s hot.’ I MUST DO IT.


  4. lockhart43
    June 15, 2011 at 4:53 AM

    RE: the hair brush bit – that totally explains why he always catches his pen at the beginning of a TCR episode, and why more often than not, Jon drops his. And there may or may not have been a giant smile on my face when Stephen says at the end of the clip, “I’m an actor, damnit.” Sometimes Stephen is too cute to comprehend…


  5. susan209
    June 15, 2011 at 5:55 AM

    All of the NPR interviews he’s ever done have been the best interviews of him, ever. I can’t wait to hear this one! That is, after I go to the orthodontist, and help my son with his 3rd grade project on Italy, and then rehearse for about one hour, then squeeze in something to eat, oh, and feed my son and supervise his bath, and at some point say hello to my husband… Yes, by then, I am going to loooooove hearing this!!!!
    Can’t wait!!! (Seriously! The sound of his voice is just, it’s just… oh God, don’t get me started. Think orthodontist, think orthodontist…)


    • mariana312
      June 15, 2011 at 8:01 AM

      Yes–the thought of Stephen’s soft radio voice is what’s getting me through these slow last few hours at work! I can’t wait! And I’m so grateful to have the Colbert News Hub to alert me to things like this. What a lovely surprise.

      Btw, I’m sorry to have been MIA recently. I just moved to a new city to start a summer internship and it’s been really hectic. I’m finally all caught up and I’m so appreciative of all the recent posts!


      • mariana312
        June 15, 2011 at 8:32 AM

        P.S. I also love that Terry Gross is such an it-getter and, it seems like, fangirl. She probably lurked on NFZ!


  6. susan209
    June 15, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    Katt, I have just listened to the first half of the interview — The “theater” half — and I want to tell you how much it meant to me to hear that interview at this exact time. You have no idea how important it was to me to hear Stephen say what he said about how he got back to techniques he recalled as an undergrad while working on his voice, and how voice lessons were therapy, and how he was afraid he wouldn’t be any good, and I could go on and on. I don’t think I would have known about this interview if you hadn’t posted it — at least I wouldn’t have heard it today. I had been feeling very anxious about getting back on stage again after 9 years, and I have a show opening in 11 days, and I was beginning to doubt myself and to despair that I was too tired, too old, too overworked to give my show everything I’ve got. And then I heard Stephen talk about not being afraid of failure, and being willing to do something even if you think you’re not going to be perfect… and oh, I could cry. It was 100% exactly the perfect thing for me to have heard. You have no idea. Stephen has done it again. He’s inspired me before and now he’s done it again. Thank you so much for helping me to hear this tonight. (And I still have part two to listen to…)
    On a lighter note, yes, Terry Gross is a fangirl, no question in my mind.
    And Stephen, is that really a memory card in your pocket?


    • iwaspromisedpancakes
      June 15, 2011 at 7:48 PM

      I was thinking about your show, and how you were doing. Good luck, and good for you!


      • susan209
        June 15, 2011 at 11:35 PM

        Thanks so much! I am trying not to drive myself crazy by being too prepared. At some point I need to breathe and take Stephen’s advice. Can’t wait to see the movie “Company” tonight!


  7. W&M_NU
    June 15, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    Thanks for this Katt! I would have never known but for the Hub.


  8. iwaspromisedpancakes
    June 15, 2011 at 7:50 PM

    I loved this interview. Also, I agree with everyone that Terry Gross is officially a fangirl. Particularly when she said, “Thank you Stephen, you have no idea how much this means to me.” This kind of comment is in DSM-IV catalogue of Colbert Fangirlishness Syndrome.
    I also think from now on, when someone asks me how much something costs, I will simply say in a heavy New York accent “800 dollahs!”


    • lockhart43
      June 15, 2011 at 11:08 PM

      I also think from now on, when someone asks me how much something costs, I will simply say in a heavy New York accent “800 dollahs!”

      I laughed so hard when he said that! Oh, Matt Lappin. It’s also nice to know that it’s Lappin who is one of the people who has to wrangle up all of the strange props that they use on the show. The thought of him scrambling around the office to find the phone number of a guy he can rent a goat from is just hilarious to me.


    • susan209
      June 15, 2011 at 11:32 PM

      Re: “Thank you Stephen, you have no idea how much this means to me. This kind of comment is in DSM-IV catalogue of Colbert Fangirlishness Syndrome.”

      I laughed out loud when you said that!
      Aha! Finally I have a diagnosis! What a relief!

      And you know, the one and only time I went to TCR live, one of the first things I thought when he came out to talk to the audience was “Hmmm. A bit of OCD.” Seriously. It was because the staff worked so hard to explain to the audience that everything had to be a certain way… that the audience had to hold their hands out just-so for him to high five, and only in the first row, etc., and I also observed that the bit he does with his hairdresser before the show, where he smooths down her hair as she tries to comb his, he does exactly the same way every night. Lots of people have commented on that. But my thought is, thank God he’s a little left of “normal.” Like me. And I’m guessing, probably like a lot of us. I still haven’t listened to the second half! Will do so later!


  9. lockhart43
    June 15, 2011 at 11:00 PM

    I think this was the best Fresh Air interview Stephen’s ever done, and since they are all wonderful, that’s really saying something. I got so excited when Terry Gross played that clip of Stephen singing “Sorry-Grateful”; Stephen has such a sincere voice when he sings, it’s a real treat to listen to. And I really liked the bit about him being a perfectionist, but being totally afraid that he would suck – you can just hear it in his voice how seriously he takes his job, and how much effort and hardwork he puts into every single thing he does, and that is very admirable to me.


    • susan209
      June 15, 2011 at 11:41 PM

      I must have smiled from ear-to-ear when he said he was afraid he “would suck.” It is so comforting to know that even with his accomplishments and fame, he still feels that fear. I now feel that I have permission to feel that fear too; and so, oddly, I now don’t feel it quite so much. Does that make sense?
      And “Sorry-Grateful”… I loved that Terry Gross commented on the vulnerability in his voice. And only a fangirl would say that. No question. I wonder if Terry is amongst us even as we blog… Well, hi Terry, whoever you are.


    • shellichelle
      June 16, 2011 at 1:58 AM

      Totally agree! His interviews w/ Terry always reveal, in part, the man behind the character in such an organic way- it’s like we’re privy to a private conversation. It’s how I imagine DB’s interview w/ him. So relaxed, so refreshing.


  10. carolineny
    June 16, 2011 at 1:46 AM

    Great interview, thanks so much for alerting us to it.

    I agree that Terry Gross seems like a fan. I also like the way she LISTENS and lets her guest talk, instead of butting in too often, as many interviewers do.

    Like other posters, one of my favorite parts of the interview was when Stephen said he was afraid that Company might suck. I loved how he worked his way down from the intellectual explanations of why he didn’t promote Company on the show to the basic. more emotional reason.


  11. shellichelle
    June 16, 2011 at 2:02 AM

    With all the mentions of hearing how sincere “Sorry Grateful” is…does anyone know if the cast recorded a soundtrack?


  12. karenatasha
    June 16, 2011 at 4:04 AM

    Wow–I just had a chance to tune in and listen online, and I am seriously, seriously blown away. What a fantastic interview. And yes, the first time in all of her interviews that you could absolutely diagnose Ms. Gross as a fangirl. She might try to deny it–but we know better. That little adoring giggle. The lavish thanks. The attention to his history and the details of his performance. Terry Gross: you’re caught!

    I love all the things people have pointed out, but I was also fascinated by his description of testifying at the White House and how he began to love it once he realized that the event would unfold in an unexpected way. That quiet confidence and joy in the challenge: amazing and wonderful. All in all, I felt as if I were getting an intimate glimpse into Stephen’s thought processes…and it’s a joy.


  13. lockhart43
    June 16, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    So I went to see ‘Company’ tonight (by myself, too, which I must say was a glorious idea), and um, instead of saying 5 different words for how amazing it was, I’ll just say this: all synonyms for “magnificent” apply. I loved it! It was such a wonderful experience. There were about 11 other people in the theatre, and we were all laughing out loud together (I was sitting in the very back, but still, together) and fully enjoying ourselves. Some of the other people even clapped after a couple of the songs, which was just kinda neat.

    For those of you who are able to see the film, I highly recommend doing so. The entire cast is fantastic (I especially enjoyed Martha Plimpton, who I just adore, and Christina Hendricks, who was hilarious). But Stephen was unbelievable. Watching him sing with such emotion and honesty and seeing him perform so well that it looked effortless (And the tumbling! The tumbling!) was something to behold. And just knowing how much hard work he put into it made me appreciate him all the more. While I cannot imagine how great it was for those who got to see the show live, seeing Stephen in something so different and yet somehow completely familiar was a true joy, and worth every minute.


    • susan209
      June 17, 2011 at 1:17 AM

      I saw the movie last night as well, with Karenatasha and SoMuch2Kno (and may I add that one of the benefits of being a fangirl is getting to meet wonderful people) so I was surprised to hear that the theater you went to only had 11 people in it. The theater we were in was sold out (of course, it was downtown, NYC, so that’s a factor) and yes, it was wonderful to hear the movie audience applauding along with the people actually applauding in the movie. I agree with all that you said, and I would add that after seeing it live from the second balcony at Lincoln Center, and then seeing it up close and personal in a film format, I really appreciated the nuances of the various performances that didn’t necessarily come across in a huge theater. I appreciated being able to see little details that I missed when seeing it live.
      As to the DVD — we were talking about that last night and while we may not have a crystal ball, we all agreed that at the very least, Lincoln Center would be selling the DVD in their gift shop as well as on line. Probably the money would go to benefit Lincoln Center like the performance itself, so it would be a win-win for them and they’d be crazy not to sell a DVD.


      • lockhart43
        June 18, 2011 at 2:33 PM

        First of all, I love that you went to see it with Karenatasha and somuch2know (that’s Stephen, NFZ, and the Hub, continuing to bring people together!). And to be honest, I was surprised there were 11 other people in the theatre because I thought there would be less than that (going to see a musical captured for film is just not something that a lot of people go to see in that town on a Wednesday night). I was surprised it was actually playing so close to where I live. Surprised and completely delighted!


  14. colbaby
    June 16, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    So is there any word on if/when Company will be made available on DVD?


  15. susan209
    June 18, 2011 at 9:31 PM

    lockhart43 :
    First of all, I love that you went to see it with Karenatasha and somuch2know (that’s Stephen, NFZ, and the Hub, continuing to bring people together!). And to be honest, I was surprised there were 11 other people in the theatre because I thought there would be less than that (going to see a musical captured for film is just not something that a lot of people go to see in that town on a Wednesday night). I was surprised it was actually playing so close to where I live. Surprised and completely delighted!

    Well, I’m glad to hear that excellent taste in musicals and comedic actors is spreading throughout small towns and cities across the nation! I’m not sure where you are, but I’ll bet you have helped spread the word to your part of the world. 11 in the audience today, 110 tomorrow! And if you’re ever in the NYC area, we will have to have another Hub get-together with other former NFZers and Hubsters. Let us know!
    I was definitely feeling more youthful and hip seeing “Company” in downtown, NYC. I even ate a slice of vegan pizza while waiting to meet Karenatasha and Somuch2kno. Very downtown of me.
    One funny thing I realized though… I kept thinking amidst that very full audience that they were all there to see Stephen. It took me a moment to realize that some of the people in the audience were there because they just loved musicals, or Patti LuPone, or, well, other people. I had to laugh at myself for thinking that naturally everyone was there to see Stephen. Because I seriously thought that for longer than I’m willing to admit.


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