When Stephen Colbert opened his Oct. 26, 7 p.m., Cornell show, campaign music was blaring, a giant bald eagle head was projected behind him, and American flags commanded the stage. "What an honor and privilege it is for you to have me here tonight," he quipped.
With the mood set, Colbert, comedian, faux presidential candidate and host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," kept the Barton Hall crowd of 5,000 roaring through two sold-out shows. The show was part of Colbert's "I Am America, and So Can You" tour to promote the book of the same name. He used his infamous satiric, irreverent and often raunchy humor to poke fun at college and politics, both in and out of character.
"As you know, I have something of a reputation for doing political humor, sharp-edged satire and intellectual wordplay. So what better way for me to start the evening than with a T-shirt cannon!" he said, and started blasting shirts into the mob of screams and waving hands.
Colbert ragged on Cornell, its students, the parents of its students (many of whom were in the audience -- the show was part of the First-Year Family Weekend program) and its alumni.
The worst thing about Cornell, he said, is its mascot. Colbert's fear of bears is well known to fans of his TV show. When the Big Red Bear sauntered up to the stage, he said, "Don't f--- with me," and shot it with the T-shirt cannon.
As for prominent Cornell alumni, Colbert showed no mercy. He started with former Attorney General Janet Reno and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
"So clearly you can pump out the hot, hot ladies," he said.
His favorite alum, of course, was conservative pundit Ann Coulter. "How proud you must be, and what a lovely spirit she is," Colbert said. "I picture her walking the lush lawns here belittling foreign-exchange students."
Moving on to Cornell students, he said, "You people get more of your news from me and this guy named Jon Stewart than from any other source. Who thinks that I am news?"
After a smattering of applause, he asked, "Who thinks I'm not news but gets their news from me anyway?"
When the crowd roared, Colbert scoffed, "And this is the Ivy League! Shame on you! I make s--- up all the time!"
Colbert, who is running for president in South Carolina, announced that, under new sponsorship, his campaign would be the "Hail to the Cheese Nacho Cheese Doritos Stephen Colbert 2008 Campaign."
"I will be as good for this country as Doritos are for your body," he said.
And what about a campaign slogan? He suggested, "Don't just waste your vote -- waste your vote on me."
During the question-and-answer session, one student said, "I'd vote for you, and I bet everyone in this room would vote for you, too!" After the uproar of screams and applause died down, Colbert said, "What is wrong with you people?! ... I don't really want to win, I just want to f--- with people!"
Only one question left Colbert stumped. He had proposed building a "freedom dome" around the United States to keep immigrants from walking, swimming or flying into the country. He just laughed and moved on when a student asked, "What do you plan to do against burrowing immigrants?"
He ended with the closing words seemingly appropriate to his character: "Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the singing of our national anthem."
The crowd loved it.
Graduate student Melissa Rice is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.