Colbert says sorry

VANCOUVER (CUP) — Even the seldom-seen Vancouver sun was beaming as Stephen Colbert ran onstage mid-February, yelling, “I take it all back!” to thousands of Canadian fans.

It was the last of the two-day filming of the Vancouver Olympics special edition of The Colbert Report, the satirical news show that sees Colbert embody the persona of a right-wing pundit.

Several episodes of The Colbert Report had been leading up to his event, in which he engaged in Olympic-themed activities. Colbert mocked Canadians as “syrup-sucking ice holes,” disparaged Canada for allegedly giving the U.S. speed skating team unfair access to the Richmond Olympic Oval, and attempted to participate in the Games by trying out for various U.S. Olympic teams.

Key segments of the Vancouver episodes included interviews with U.S. gold-medal winning snowboard cross athlete Seth Wescott and American ski aerialists Jeret “Speedy” Peterson and Ryan St. Onge. Also shown was a taped interview with Vancouver South MP Ujjal Dosanjh — in which Colbert asked which caste the former health minister was born into, leading to a palpable gasp of dismay from the audience.

Perhaps the one sticky point of the show was when Colbert pressed St. Onge and Peterson on ski aerialists’ apparent desire to keep pushing the boundaries of their sport, citing its difficulty and danger. Peterson’s reply of “Nobody’s died yet” met a disapproving response from the majority of those present, who were no doubt thinking of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died during a practice run before the start of this year’s Games.

According to University of British Columbia marketing instructor Paul Cubbon, Colbert taping his show in Vancouver was a win-win for all parties involved.

“It’s a big show in the media for two weeks; this puts him centre stage,” said Cubbon. “Consider it informal co-branding‚ and he did not have to pay for sponsorship.”

Cubbon said that the event had positive results for both Vancouver and VANOC. “Certainly many people appreciate the satire and mocking humour,” he said. “Canadian celebrities are getting showcased, and it does not hurt that on sunny days the backdrop to the filming is a great ad for the city.”

Although Colbert is an entertainer, he is also a brand, according to Cubbon. “Because his style attracts a certain audience, then a new brand, an event, can benefit from association,” he said.

UBC journalism professor Joe Cutbirth, however, thinks Colbert is doing more damage control with Vancouver tapings than anything else.

”I think he’s coming up here because he put his foot in his mouth and I think he realizes it,” Cutbirth said in an interview with CTV.

“Satire works as a tool of the powerless against the powerful,” he explained. “And, for better or worse, in this case, Americans are seen by Canadians as the more powerful.

“When Stephen Colbert discredited Canada and the Olympics — a real source of Canadian pride — I think he realized . . . he had crossed the line.”

Judging by the crowds that slept over, camped out, lined up, waved signs and chanted on both Wednesday and Thursday morning, it would seem that whether or not he crossed the line, Colbert and his show remain warm in the hearts of more than a few ice holes in Vancouver.