“And Nothing but the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert”

By Lisa Rogak

(Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, 304 pages)

Who is this author?

Lisa Rogak, an author and magazine journalist who has published more than 40 books, knows her way around complex personalities. Her biography of America’s premiere contemporary horror-meister, “Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King,” earned her nominations for such mystery genre awards as the Edgar and the Anthony.

On her website, she says:

“I’ve covered everything from sabbaticals to baby names to funeral food customs, though in the last few years I’ve focused on writing biographies….

“After all this time, it never ceases to amaze me that I have been able to make my living by indulging my curiosity and asking total strangers really nosy questions.”

That is no easy task, but her readers are glad she does.

What is this book about?

Here’s what Stephen Colbert….let’s see, is that pronounced “ColBEAR” or “ColBERT”?…has to say about himself:

“My name is Stephen Colbert, but I actually play someone on television named Stephen Colbert, who looks like me and talks like me, but who says things with a straight face [that] he doesn’t mean.”

Got that? To be sure, most of us need no introduction to the star of “The Colbert Report,” the wildly popular, deeply satirical and brilliantly written Comedy Channel cable TV show. For those who have never seen it, Colbert the comedian/actor/writer plays Colbert the arch-conservative bigmouth pundit, who may remind you of such outsize media personalities as RushBo, Bill O’ and, on the other side of the political aisle, Keith O. Colbert also coined the term “truthiness,” which he defined this way in an interview with The Onion’s AV Club:

“Truthiness is ‘What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.’ It’s not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There’s not only an emotional quality, but there’s a selfish quality.”

What Rogak does is to give us the personal history, or perhaps historiness, of the actual Colbert, which enlightens us as to how a Southern boy, the last-born in a devout Catholic family of 11 kids who lost his dad and two brothers in a tragic plane crash, went on to become a mainstay of “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart and now one of America’s wittiest entertainers and a serious political commentator at the same time.

Why you’ll like it:

Rogak researched Colbert far and wide –- the book has 40 pages of bibliographical notes — tracing his personal and professional life from childhood through mid-2010. Writing seriously about being funny is difficult, as introspection tends to dampen humor, but Rogak avoids that pitfall and presents the multi-talented, likeable guy behind the pompous TV persona. Best of all, she quotes Colbert extensively, which helps us understand how he got to be one of America’s sharpest satirists.  As he explains:

“I grew up in a humorocracy where the funniest person in the room is king,” he said. “There was a constant competition to have the better story and be the funniest person in the room, and I wasn’t a particularly funny kid.”

Truth, or truthiness?

What others are saying:

“Special attention is paid to landmarks like the tragic plane crash that claimed the life of his father and two brothers, his success at Second City, and his ongoing Comedy Central reign—as well as his brief presidential bid, being named assistant sports psychologist for the 2010 U.S. Olympic speed skating team, and having a $5 million treadmill on the International Space Station named for him… this is the first major biography of Colbert and one fans will appreciate,” says Library Journal

“…enthusiastic fans will delight in Rogak’s lengthy, detailed behind-the-scenes coverage of both the show and Colbert’s controversial keynote speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. [An] engaging, entertaining biography, which succeeds in capturing Colbert’s anarchic, iconoclastic spirit,” says Publishers Weekly.

“As close to a bio of the man — rather than the persona who hosts ‘The Colbert Report’ — that we’ll see anytime soon,” says the New York Daily News.

When is it available?

It’s on the Hartford Public Library’s new books shelf now.

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