Saturday, January 07, 2012

How Many "You's" Are There?

Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine featured a Charles McGrath article headlined with the question: "How Many Stephen Colberts Are There?"
The Colbert on-screen persona is actually less rigid than it used to be, and Colbert can dial it up or down as he chooses. There is now more of a winking quality to the act, a sense that we’re all in on the joke. And in the last part of the show, when Colbert typically leaps up from his desk and bounds across the set to a table in front of a fireplace with the Latin motto “Videri quam esse” (“To seem to be, rather than to be”), where he interviews a guest about a new book or movie, he usually tamps the character down enough to allow the guest a few minutes to get his or her own message across.

There are many great lessons for anyone who creates content and then brings it to life in the piece.

For example: "Colbert and his staff, which numbers about 80, have the show down to something like a science. They call it the “joy machine,” with equal emphasis on the fun and the mechanics, and the engine runs practically nonstop, at very high r.p.m.’s. By 11 every morning, a rough plan for that day’s show is established and the writers — all of them brainy and most in their 30s — are sent off, usually in pairs, to come back with finished scripts in just a couple of hours. Editing and polishing goes on all day, and sometimes continues even after the taping is done, around 9 or so.

"The show’s writing process is extravagantly wasteful. Colbert likes to say, “Let’s make it perfect and then cut it.” Every day enough good jokes or ideas are jettisoned to fill another couple of half-hours. Some are deemed too weak by Colbert’s demanding standards, some are put on hold for want of time on a given night and are then forgotten, and some are merely left behind as the show is swept along with the relentless news cycle. “The trade-off with the show is that you can have an idea and see it on TV that night,” Tom Purcell, the executive producer, says. “The downside is that you have to do it all over again tomorrow. It’s a hungry beast.”

Questions to ask yourself as you prep for Monday:

1. Can listeners hear "the real you?"
2. Is there an exaggerated, bigger than life character of you and what's that character's purpose?
3. Do both of them interact and engage with the real world in entertaining ways, adding dimensionality, freshness, topicality and relevance?
4. Can listeners describe how "all aspects of you" feel about and view one another? (i.e. do they feel like an insider, always getting the point?)
5. Do you over prepare and is what ends up on the air your very best?

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