December 6, 2007

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I Am America (And So Can You!), by Stephen Colbert, audiobook on 3 CDs (2007, Hachette Audio, approx. 3.5 hours)
Reviewed by Lisa Parsons lparsons@hippopress.com

Stephen Colbert is funnier on television, in half-hour programs composed of few-minute-sized riffs.

In a book — whether it’s the hardcover (which I’ve also read through) or audio discs — it’s too much at once, and the effect is wearing.

A few minutes of satirizing a blowhard is funny. An hour or three of satirizing a blowhard — just starts to sound like an hour of blowhard, you know?

For the three of you who don’t already know: Stephen Colbert’s shtick is to parody the likes of Bill O’Reilly. (OK, not even the likes of. Just him.) His daily half-hour Colbert Report on Comedy Central combines news bites, celebrity interviews and commentary, with Colbert always in persona as an uber-conservative pundit completely unaware of the logical laughability of many of his claims. And at the same time, the man often has a point. In there somewhere.

The book is in three sections: My American Childhood, My American Adolescence and My American Maturity. Chapters include “Religion,” “Sports,” “Sex & Dating,” “Higher Education” and “The Media.” Each topic is an excuse for Colbert to rant, to talk about himself, and to include clever diagrams, cartoons and quizzes.

The audiobook is an “abridgement approved by the author.” Compared to the hardcover, it lacks entire passages and certain fun features, like the yearbook photo of a brace-faced Colbert.

The hardcover also contains margin notes, akin to the pop-up blurbs that appear on screen during “The Word” on the TV show. On the audiobook, he simply reads the notes parenthetically, which is lame when it’s not confusing, or leaves them out entirely, which is too bad. Part of what makes the TV show fun to watch are the witty asides Colbert tosses off, sometimes making himself chuckle a little, or at least you can see the twinkle in his eye. In an audiobook, nothing feels tossed-off; it’s just a linear reading of text, and that’s much less fun.

I would say it’s good that the audiobook is read by Colbert himself, and not some hired narrator, but really no one else could have done it. It does, by the way, include the voices of some Friends of Colbert for brief bits, like Amy Sedaris and Jon Stewart. I did like the interlude in which God explains why he doesn’t always answer prayers and examines the conundrum of having players on opposing teams praying to win.

The hardcover includes the text of Colbert’s 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech, with photos and margin notes — absent from the CD.

Neither incarnation of this book quite lives up to the fun that can be a Colbert Report; you’re better off reading the hardcover than playing the audiobook, although the audio is good for true-blue fans who want a dose of that comforting Colbert voice.

Colbert is good, but this isn’t the best way to get him. B-Lisa Parsons