"Hampden-Sydney...gave me a sense of what I wanted to do with my life."

May 16, 2014

Stephen ColbertThere may be only a few people in America who do not know that Stephen Colbert will take over the Late Show for David Letterman. However, many may not know that Colbert is an alumnus of Hampden-Sydney College.

After  two years at Hampden-Sydney (1982-84) Colbert transferred to Northwestern University to study under storied actor and dramatist Del Close. According to Colbert, "Hampden-Sydney was great for me. It gave me a sense of what I wanted to do with my life." Colbert, a self-described "uninterested student" in high school, found to his surprise that he enjoyed being challenged academically and he buckled down for the first time. He also almost immediately took an interest in theatre. He was cast in Professor Stephen Coy's production of Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad and performed in several other local theatre productions. Spending long hours and late nights working on productions didn't seem like work, and for the first time he found something that completely absorbed him. Although there are now, at that time Hampden-Sydney had neither a major nor minor in theatre.

Colbert is both a performer and writer and credits Hampden-Sydney's Rhetoric Program for his writing skills. "I learned scene structure and dramatic structure from years of working in improvisational theatre, but you also have to express these things in an ordered way. My Rhetoric professor, Dr. [Edward] Crawley, ordered my mind. Simplicity of language, supporting ideas, synthesizing an effective conclusion - that's what I learned from him.  And that's really important to me when developing characters and themes."

After joining Chicago's Second City comedy troupe, Colbert met comedians Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, and together they created and starred in both Exit 57 and Strangers with Candy. In 1997, Colbert began appearing in episodes of The Daily Show.  In 2005, he was given his own spin-off show, The Colbert Report.  He published I Am America (And So Can You!) in 2007. In 2014, it was announced that Colbert would replace David Letterman as host of CBS' Late Show