THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media
Colbert’s TV persona is fake, but its impact couldn’t be more real. Few Americans knew what a Super PAC was before May 2011, when Colbert asked the FCC for an exemption from media rules to allow him to plug on the show his satirical Colbert Super PAC, which has raised both $1 million and awareness about how unlimited campaign contributions are reshaping politics.
He’s addressed the troops in Iraq, testified before Congress on behalf of migrant workers and co-staged the Rally to Restore Sanity with pal/mentor Jon Stewart. And in a poll in advance of the South Carolina primary, Colbert was running competitive with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul — despite the fact that he wasn’t on the ballot. Colbert, 47, grew up the youngest of 11 children in a devout Catholic family (he now teaches Sunday school) and paid his dues in the Chicago improv scene.
Since spinning off Colbert’s blowhard O’Reilly-esque character from The Daily Show in 2005, Report has racked up 21 Emmy nominations, spawned two books (with another on the way) and one Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, and it now averages 1.6 million nightly viewers — less than The Daily Show’s 2.4 million but more than cable late-night rivals Conan O’Brien and Chelsea Handler.