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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Anderson Cooper Interviews Stephen Colbert. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired August 18, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Welcome to this 360 Special; this Stephen Colbert interview. He's been a familiar face in comedy, of course, for more than a decade, starting off in improv, then becoming a regular correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Then came The Colbert Report, a satirical nightly talk show where he played the role of an ultraconservative host. In 2015, Stephen Colbert inherited the coveted late-night spot on CBS, where David Letterman had reigned for more than 20 years. All eyes and pressure were on Colbert as he stopped playing a character and started being himself.
After the 2016 election, Stephen Colbert really hit his stride, as his show tried to make sense of the often nonsensical world of politics. The audience has responded and Stephen Colbert is now number one in late-night television.
There's a lot though you probably don't know about Stephen Colbert, his life, and what he's been through. He is as intellectual and interesting as he is funny. Over the next hour, you'll hear our in- depth interview, where Stephen opens up about his life, his losses, his comedy, and his faith.
So there's a bunch I want to talk to you about.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE LATE SHOW: And the gotchas.
COOPER: Yes, exactly.
COLBERT: Here comes the mainstream media with gotcha questions.
COOPER: I have this document here - right, yes.
COOPER: Let me just ask you about stuff that was in the news, Ken Cuccinelli.
COLBERT: Oh my god! I blame you for Ken Cuccinelli.
COOPER: He was on CNN.
COLBERT: A lot.
COLBERT: A lot.
COOPER: Yes, I know.
COLBERT: I didn't watch much when he was on--
COLBERT: --because there's a certain - I love your show. Every night, I come home, my wife and I have a like a glass of wine, handful of nuts, watch Anderson, go to bed, that's it. That's how I end my day.
COOPER: Handful of nuts?
COLBERT: A handful of nuts, just a little bit, you know I got to stay in the suit, I can't come home and binge out.
COLBERT: And there are a few panelists that I just - I can't--
COLBERT: I got to skip over - I got to skip over some of the bit - Cuccinelli would be one of them.
COOPER: If any other person in an administration, in a prior administration, had rewritten the words of Emma Lazarus' poem--
COOPER: --which Presidents from time immemorial have quoted with great reverence, it would be an outrage, it would be - people's heads would explode, understandably--
COOPER: --because it is a fundamental bedrock marker of who we are.
COLBERT: Yes, there is our physical Constitution and there's our physical Bill of Rights and certainly there's the physical Declaration of Independence, but there's also this emotional Constitution that America has. There's an emotional reality that we all share that makes us all Americans, and one of them is things like The New Colossus, the poem Emma Lazarus wrote on the Statue of Liberty.
And we're constantly being told by this administration, you don't see what you see, you don't hear, now they're saying you don't feel what you feel, you don't actually feel that, and you don't actually believe that this is a nation of immigrants.
COOPER: You call President Trump I think a heretic--
COLBERT: To reality.
COOPER: To reality.
COLBERT: A heretic to reality. As a raised Catholic, the greatest sin is actually heresy, because not only do you - are not normally are you astray from the right path, you're inviting, you're encouraging other people to come with you on that path. Specifically heresy is like proselytize for the devil.
COOPER: And the punishment for heretics is sort of the most--
COLBERT: I think it's red-hot iron coffins in Dante's Inferno, yes the area it was called Dis, I think that's the part of - the level of hell that they're in, so it's pretty bad. And--
COOPER: Doesn't get much worse than hot iron coffin.
COLBERT: Yes, the worst spa treatment. And he - our President wants to live in a fantasy world, where only the way he perceives the world is the way it is, and only things that sort of serve his vision, and he's also trying to convince us that that is the only world that exists. It's extremely solipsistic.
But he's also trying to invite us into this madness that he has, and that's heresy against reality, that is proselytizing for the most selfish and the basest instincts that the American people, like all people, have. But he is not appealing to the better angels of our nature.
COOPER: I've heard you said that the thesis of your show has become essentially, hey you're not crazy.
COLBERT: Right. That's the - the audience is not crazy. How you feel is actually how you feel, how you think is actually how you think, what you see is actually happening, what you hear is actually what he said.
COOPER: And I do think that's part of the appeal, I mean with news and what we do every night, people at a certain point get exhausted.
COLBERT: Yes, I don't know how you - let me ask you a question.
COLBERT: How do you do it every night? Because I have the relief of doing jokes.
COLBERT: And I'm not taking anything away from the ridiculous, please understand that.
COOPER: But still - ouch, yes.
COLBERT: You know. (inaudible)
COOPER: But still--
COLBERT: How do you keep going?
COOPER: Well, I mean, even though you are in comedy though, you are still in the - doing the same pace that we are in news.
[20:05:00] COLBERT: Right, we do five nights a week--
COLBERT: --an hour a night, which is--
COOPER: And whatever - you know in comedy normally people spend all day or in some cases if they like one show a week, all week, writing the material and thinking it and honing it. You have to change stuff 15 minutes before air, five minutes before air.
COLBERT: Right, we have an idea of what the show is going to be in the morning we have to do the pitch meeting actually in this room. we have some sense of like what the things that people are talking about, because we want to talk about what people are talking about.
I'm not here to educate the audience, I'm here to like give us our opinion, it's like a long editorial is what it is. And - but that could all be thrown out the window, even though we have a plan starting like 10:30 in the morning, we have a general plan.
COLBERT: Many is the time, as you know, and it's only accelerating.
COOPER: Right. It also feels like--
COLBERT: At 4:30 and I go on until 5:30 - 4:45, 5 o'clock, you know like a pop in their head and you are like chopper talk.
COOPER: Chopper talk?
COLBERT: The President is standing in front of Marine One, we call it chopper talk.
COOPER: Yes, I got it, okay. Yes.
COLBERT: He should just stand in front like a margarita maker because it's just the same noise, and at least there will be a cocktail at the end of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't hear you, you've got to talk - you can see that, you have a helicopter.
Oh really? That? Oh that's a helicopter? I thought that was the sound of your Presidency going down the toilet, I wasn't sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: For the pace of it, I do think - I mean I think about the people who work in the White House, I think President Trump - Dorothy Parker said those born to the storm find the calm very boring, and I don't know why he was born to the storm, but emotionally I think that chaos is something he's completely used to--
COLBERT: Oh no, he creates his own storm.
COOPER: --and has lived his whole life in.
COLBERT: He creates his own storm, he takes a big bucket of seawater, throws at his own face and goes, I'm a sea captain, we're going to ride it out boys, throw another bucket. Like he wants--
COOPER: But I was thinking that everybody around him - just how exhausting it must be to be in that orbit. Well I'm going to choose to be--
COLBERT: Yes, every person - like every person who leaves goes, God it was crazy in there.
COOPER: Right. Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist, who we have on the show wrote a book called Everything Trump Touches Dies.
COOPER: And I actually think - I mean I think that's a really interesting title, it sort of reminds me of like Rogue in X-Men, you know everything she touches--
COOPER: --sucks the life's blood out of you or whatever it was and it kills you.
COOPER: Do you ever worry about that, because--
COLBERT: Worry about what?
COOPER: Well the thing about Rogue is, it's not just people that she kissed who die, it's people who go against her. And there are many people who have already destroyed themselves because they've so gone after Trump that they themselves - it blows back up - they've gone down to his level and--
COLBERT: I'm not going against him, I am not the resistance. I said this I think the first night after he was elected. I think it was the next day because there were like - remember there were like the next day a little too late there were marches in all the streets. People are like, wait no we care, like a day after it mattered.
And I think what I said at the time, I was like - just wanted like we're not the resistance - this is not the resistance, this is alternative programming, because I could foresee like the madness and the heartbreak associated with that guy being at a very important moral position.
And so, what we want to do is to point and laugh at what he thinks is his own unassailable dignity that he thinks he gets from that office. But that's not resisting, that's laughing, and it's not the same thing. I'm not a political figure.
COOPER: But it is interesting because the whole notion of people laughing at him is something he has brought up time and time again. I mean I'm sure you've done montages of this, it is a recurring theme for him to say, under Obama the world was laughing at us, they're not laughing anymore, they're not laughing now.
The irony is everywhere they are laughing.
COOPER: And - but he says this, I mean you can go back and find a dozen easily references to the people aren't laughing at us anymore. It is very important to him in his mind that he's not being laughed at, and which is why probably your show - he has described you as--
COOPER: --saying filthy things.
COLBERT: Yes, exactly. That is the most I've been able to get to say about me. Did he tweet about you?
COOPER: No, as far as I know, he has not.
COLBERT: No, I've yet to get him to tweet about me once.
COLBERT: My feelings are a little hurt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The guy on CBS is - what a low-life, what a lowlife.
I mean, this guy on CBS has no talent.
COLBERT: Hey, Mr. President, I will not stand here and let you talk that way about James Corden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: One of the things I read that your mom used to say to you as a kid was to - with any hardship you were going through to view it in the light of eternity.
[20:10:00] COLBERT: Yes.
COOPER: I found it really interesting, and I've been thinking about it for the couple of days since I read that. How do you think - I won't say eternity, but history is going to view this President.
COOPER: You have no doubt about that?
COLBERT: Oh no, no no no.
COOPER: Because oftentimes, a President leaves, he's not popular and then - George W. Bush left with low ratings, I guess you would say or opinion polls, and now is viewed much more differently, at least different--
COLBERT: I question your research on that one. I don't think George W. Bush is actually--
COOPER: He's kind of-
COLBERT: Compared to Trump?
COLBERT: Well sure, I mean if the - our next President is a single celled organism, then Trump is going to look great.
You know, some sort of slime mold. Yes, no I don't think so. I'm all in, chips are all in on this not being a good one.
COOPER: There is a belief among some Democrats and I guess even maybe a few Republicans who appear on TV saying that there will reach a point of critical mass where people will have had enough. Do you--
COLBERT: I think it's just - I think it's just we vote in 2020 and we find out some more about our country. We found out something interesting about our country in 2016. And I think we find out every so often in Presidential elections is that there's a large group of Americans, and I don't even think it's necessarily Democrat or Republican. [20:15:00] There's a large group of Americans who think the President should be a complete jerk, that he shouldn't be somebody that you necessarily admire. It should be like, look a guy who's willing to work on the dark side and get things done.
COOPER: Well I also think there's people who just like the fact that he's - that you're upset about him and that we are covering him and--
COLBERT: True, I'm familiar with the term drinking liberal tears.
But seems like a huge price to pay--
COOPER: No because he's--
COLBERT: --that guy's like--
COOPER: --he's a tough guy who doesn't take any guff and is not politically correct, and there's an element of people who like that.
COOPER: They can't be that way in their own life.
COLBERT: Those are not policy positions. That's just people who perhaps, and perhaps for real reasons, feel like that they have been made to suffer in some way and then they use him as a tool to inflict suffering on others, so we're all even. It's zero-sum.
COOPER: There is a - Max Boot wrote about this recently - that there is a - the President, conservatives used to make fun of liberals for victimhood that they were always portraying themselves as victims, according to conservatives.
Now, Donald Trump, I mean he is promoting a sense of victimhood that seems appealing to a lot of the people listening to him, that he and they are being discriminated, that he's such a strong Christian, as he told Chris Cuomo once after a debate, that that's why the IRS is auditing him allegedly, no proof actually offered.
COLBERT: Sure, I agree with you. That is one of the appeals of Donald Trump, is that there are people who feel that the - strangely feel like they are like him or that he is like them, when I don't know anyone like him. But he says you and me are the same, and I am being victimized, therefore I understand your experience.
But, A, he's not being victimized and he's like no one. He's born with a gold spoon in his mouth. And maybe he is like everybody else, I don't know, I suppose people have a commonality, but the odd thing about the President is that we actually know nothing about him.
We don't know his - we don't need - we don't know stupid things, we don't know school grades, we don't know his actual skin color, we don't know what his actual hair is like, we don't know what he's worth, we don't know anything about his conversations with other world leaders. We don't know anything about him, that's the odd part. For a guy who likes to always have a camera pointed at him and always talk about himself, I don't - there's very little we can say about him with certainty.
COOPER: On a serious level, does it worry you, because it worries me about abnormal behavior being normalized and--
COLBERT: Of course, that was the first worry.
COOPER: --the daily repetition of this stuff, after a while you start to think okay it's normal that he has just accused the Clintons of being involved with the killing of Jeffrey Epstein, even if it was just in a retweet.
COLBERT: Right, every so often metaphorically we have to pull over the car of our show, get out and just take a breath and go, where are we now, because you have to be - you have to remain shocked, you have to be reminded that something - you have to remind yourself that this is insane.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: Of course, Trump is lying in that tweet and here's how you know, he's the one saying it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: The power of repetition is that it just becomes the normal thing.
COLBERT: And that's - I mean he's really good at marketing. He's really good at marketing a single idea over and over again.
COLBERT: And when - I'm sure the challenge for real news is to fact- check him more than twice, because the third fact-check sounds like you're being--
COLBERT: --a little bitchy.
COOPER: Right, that's right.
COLBERT: You know what I mean? We already went over this.
COLBERT: But he'll never stop.
[20:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Would you want to have Trump on your show again?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: Can I suggest something - can I suggest something?
TRUMP: Yes, go ahead.
COLBERT: How about two walls, okay, each of them--
COLBERT: No, no, not connected. Two walls, one here, one there, in between a moat--
TRUMP: And nice resorts.
COLBERT: Filled with fire.
TRUMP: Oh yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: The quick answer would be no, because it would be hard for me to be properly respectful of the Office, because I think that he is so disrespectful over the Office that it is very hard to perceive him as I would want to perceive a President in terms of their status and the dignity and the representation of the United States. So I think just for safety's sake, it wouldn't be a good idea.
COOPER: Obviously all the Democratic candidates are being asked, do they believe Trump is a white nationalist, white supremacist, we're - how do you answer that question?
COLBERT: A, I'm not running for President, B, he calls himself a nationalist and he thinks we should have more people from Norway and less people from African countries. So I think it's a fairly simple equation to say that is white nationalism.
COOPER: I know you had ideas about what the show was going to be before you started, everybody does.
COLBERT: Kind of - I kind of had an idea, but it - really no.
COOPER: The thing people do not understand about starting a show is it becomes something - whatever you think it's going to be, you don't really know until you actually start--
COLBERT: Mike Tyson said it best, everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the face.
COLBERT: And that's what it is. COOPER: No, but it's true and you are doing it without a net in front of him and everybody's commenting on it.
COOPER: But yes it does seem like you found the mission, the thesis - you did that the live show on Showtime on election night.
COOPER: That - I mean to me that seemed the turning point, what in your mind was it, or have you already been--
COLBERT: No - okay that was significant because - that was significant in a way as a performer, because the last 11 minutes or so something like that is largely improvised, or I'm just speaking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: I think we can agree that this has been an absolutely exhausting bruising election for everyone and it has come to an ending that I did not imagine. we all now feel the way Rudy Giuliani looks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[20:25:00] COLBERT: That was - I was completely emotionally raw and I think it's important for the audience to know that you're not lying to them or you're not selling them a bill of goods. It doesn't mean like every night's a confession, it just means there's some emotional truth to what you're talking about.
COOPER: But I also think that the camera is a little piece of glass and I think it transmits truth and authenticity, people know who is bullshit and who's not.
COLBERT: Right, and at that moment, I had - I just ran out of bullshit. And not that I was trying to bullshit the audience, but it was such a stunning event that it was not necessarily impossible to me that that would happen. We considered it, I just knew that if it happened, that I would have a room full of very upset people and I didn't really want to engage in a bunch of yuck-em-up (ph), so I said we'll just improvise if that happens, and that's what we ended up having to do.
And that led to an authentic response, that I think people responded to, and - but that's not when I found the show. We found the show months before, because we - when you first start to show up, everybody samples, and then people kind of went away.
And then we worked our way back to the kind of show that we wanted to do, which was we're going to talk about what just happened, what is the national conversation, what is our opinion from an emotional point of view, really with some - hopefully with some emotional truth because it is on some level an art, about what everybody's talking about today.
My fear was that, even though I think we had found it, mostly through the live shows because that's - immediacy leads to I think authenticity, even doing a scene fast if you're an actor brings some sort of reality to it. My concern was that no one would ever come back to see if we'd found it, like we could have actually found the whole treasure and nobody was like, yes there's nothing down that cave.
And that night I think what made enough of a splash that people went, oh they're doing something interesting now. That was an expression of something we'd already found, it wasn't the new thing. And then the show basically got people to - it built an audience again between that and Inauguration Day.
And by Inauguration Day, people I think were hungry for someone talking about what was happening on a daily basis immediately, because the new cycle had happened so fast, or it had become so fast because the President is the person that you rightly should pay attention to. It's not like we're indulging some madman, he's the President of the United States. It is right and proper that you pay attention to everything he says because everything he says has an effect.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You wrote me a letter after my mom died. In it you said I hope you find peace in your grief. One of the things I've been thinking a lot about is how we don't really talk about grief and loss. People are not comfortable talking about it.
One of the things I found in the last two months since my mom died is people coming up to me on the street or reaching out to me on Instagram or wherever and sharing their grief and sharing their loss with me. And I found that the most helpful thing. I found it to be the most powerful and moving thing.
And I kind of oddly don't want that to stop. In regular times, people don't do that. And you've spoken very publicly about what you experienced as a kid. And I just, a lot of it I didn't know. I think a lot of people don't know. So if you don't mind, I wanted to talk to you a little about it and sort of how it has shaped who you are now?
Your dad was killed in a plane crash. You were 10 years old along with your two brothers, Peter and Paul. And they were the closest brothers to you in age.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE NIGHT WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Right, it goes Jimmy, Eddie, Mary, Billy and Margo, Tommy, Jay, Lulu, Paul, Peter, Steven.
COOPER: 11 are there?
COLBERT: I'm the youngest of 11.
COOPER: All right. My dad died when I was 10, too. It is such a horrible age to lose a father. I can't imagine losing both my brothers at the same time as well. For me, losing my dad then, it changed the trajectory in my life.
I'm a different person than I feel like I was men to be. And I feel like there are times I, yes, I'm, I feel like I remember when I was 10, I felt like I marked time. To this day I mark time between while my dad was alive and after. It is like the New Year zero. It's like when Pol Pot took over Cambodia.
COLBERT: Without a doubt. Without a doubt. Yes. There's another guy. There is another Steve. There is a Steve Colbert there is that kid before my father and brothers died. And it is kind of difficult. I have fairly vivid memories from right after they died to the present. It's continuous and contiguous you know like it is all connected. There is a big break in the cable of my memory at their death. Everything before that has an odd ghostly--
COOPER: Like shards of glass. Like flashes.
COLBERT: Little bits of it and then the thing that, really like music because they died in September. They died on September 11th, 1974. The music from that summer leading up to it I will undo me in an instant.
The song of the summer was band on the run. Do not play band on the run around me. Yes. You become a different person like I was just personally shattered. And then you kind of re-form yourself in this quiet, grieving world that was created in the house.
And my mother had me to take care of, which I think was sort of a gift for her, it was a sense of purpose at that point because I was the last child. But I also had her to take care of. It became a very quiet house and very dark.
And ordinary concerns of childhood suddenly disappeared. I won't say mature because that actually was kind of delayed by the death of my father, by restarting at 10. But I had a different point of view than the children around me.
COOPER: There was a writer, Mary Gordon, who wrote about father less girls and I think it applies and my mom used to quote it to me all the time but I think but I think it applies to boys as well as paraphrase. A fatherless child thinks all things possible and nothing is safe. And I never really understood when my mom would say when I was alone, young but I've come to understand it.
COLBERT: All things are possible in both the positive and negative.
COOPER: Correct, yes, great things can happen. The phone can ring and your whole life can change for better or worse. But I became what I refer to jokingly as a catastrophist. I didn't want to be surprised and hurt again. So I started plunging head first into the things that scared me most. I would take survival courses in the wilderness to know that I could survive.
COLBERT: I did not have that reaction. I read a lot of science fiction.
COOPER: But I have heard you say that you do believe in like pushing toward things you are afraid of. You talked about standing in an elevator and having an awkward experience intentionally.
COLBERT: That's awkward know. I suppose there's fear involved in that but I, so your dad dies and your brothers who are almost as big as your dad because they're your older brothers. They hung the moon in your mind.
So suddenly this important thing disappears. And important things suddenly lose some of their power. It doesn't mean you love your dad or your brothers any less but things that supposedly have status don't have status anymore.
So being willing to be ridiculous or not worrying what people thought of your status. Suddenly became easier and actually sort of the bits of embarrassment that you might feel are being ridiculous in public like singing out loud in an elevator full of strangers which is an awkward and embarrassing thing to do.
I would do it on purpose to get that feeling of embarrassment or kind of destruction of personal status, that protective feeling that you have torsion stay straight and to stay sort of in control or well thought of. And I would purposely embrace the awkward moment of embarrassment and it would run through me like an electric little current.
And I like that feeling. I think it has something to do with not thinking that anything is important including my own embarrassment.
COOPER: I know you've said that.
COLBERT: That's related to status.
COOPER: School certainly did not seem important and if teachers would try to--
COLBERT: No. I was like a golden child in terms of like my school.
COOPER: You blew off school.
COLBERT: After that, I was like, forget it but you were reading a book a day at home. What I wanted to read though, I was reading, I was escaping into fantasy and science fiction. Science fiction first and then fantasy later when somebody even talking.
COOPER: When you lost your two brothers, your dad and the boys, as I know you refer to them.
COLBERT: It was always dad and the boys. That's how they were called dad and the boys. Not Peter and Paul but dad and the boys.
COOPER: And I know most of the siblings had already left. They went to college; they had families of their own so it was really just you and your mom.
COLBERT: Yes for the most part.
COOPER: That's a difficult thing. I had talked to Howard Stern about this as well. Howard Stern said he always sort of felt like he had to treat his mom like a China tea cup. I always viewed my mom as a space alien who had landed on this planet and whose ship was immobilized and I had to protect her and show her how to live in this world.
And I felt that until the day she died. And now I look back and I realize, one of my mom's greatest strengths, as a kid drove me bananas, was how despite tragedies and losses, she was, she consciously chose to remain open and vulnerable and optimistic and believing the best in everybody she met.
I felt like, okay, she can do that because I'm running interference and I'm scheming and plotting. And willing--
COLBERT: Any chance that she was doing it because you were there and needed a good example?
COOPER: I don't think she thought in those terms, to be honest. Your mom I think was very parental. My mom was an amazing creature.
COLBERT: Because my mom was so shattered by the loss. Not destroyed but shattered by the loss. We used to joke that I raised my mom after the age of 10.
COOPER: I completely understand that.
COLBERT: In some ways, it struck in a different way but a child is also resilient. Their world view is not fully formed. Now my world view includes dad and your brothers died. That's part of the world view.
COLBERT: My age now, which is around the age of my father and my mother were when he died. I am not sure if I could be as resilient.
So I don't entirely know how she did it. I had a friend who lost someone recently lost a child. And she said how did your mother do this? And I said I wish she was here to tell you. But it had to do with her for loving God. I have the crucifix on my wall that was hers. I inherited it when she died.
And she would pray to our lady and say, she knows what it is to lose a child. And her example of her faith stays with me. And that is, we're asked to accept the world that God gives us and to accept it with love. If God is everywhere, and God is in everything, then the world as it is all just an expression of god and his love and you have to accept with it gratitude. What is the option? What is the option?
[20:45:00] COOPER: It's one of the things I have been touched by and sort of healed by the last two months is just people having real conversations with me about loss and grief and their pain. And I find it, you know, we are talked to sort of push all of our emotions deep down inside and pretend everything is great. It's nice to actually relate to somebody on dad and talk about something other than this.
COLBERT: I think when you meet someone who has had a loss, you have two options. One is to say, I'm sorry for your loss which is a perfectly lovely thing to do. But if you can share your experience, then they're not alone.
COOPER: Well, it is always interesting to me how when you, I bring it up. Meeting somebody for the first time and they say, I'm sorry to bring it up. As if, what they don't realize is, I'm thinking about it all the time. As you say, it is, you know, it is one of my arms. It is an extension of who I am.
COLBERT: And quite possibly the rest of your life.
COOPER: Oh, without a doubt. It's been 31 years since my brother died. More since my dad and there's not a day that goes by I don't think about it.
COLBERT: To the point sometimes it will go like, why is nobody asking me about this? Like my brothers died 40 - 45 years ago and sometimes I go like, how come nobody is asking me about Paul? But how would they know to ask? They don't know I'm thinking about him.
COOPER: Right. And they would be uncomfortable to ask. I actually - this is going to sound weird but for a long time, and probably still to this day, I wish that I had a scar. I wish I had like a scar.
COLBERT: Harry Potter?
COOPER: Yes, more like a bond villain. Running down my eye on my face that is unavoidable for people to see because it would sort of, it would just be a silent signal to everybody I meet that I'm not the person I was meant to be or I'm not the person that I started out being.
COLBERT: But you're entirely the person you were meant to be.
COOPER: I don't know, maybe not. May be this is a warped version of--
COLBERT: So there is another time line with a happier Anderson Cooper?
COOPER: Yes. I mean, no, it doesn't exist in an alternate universe. But I guess--
COLBERT: I guess that's what I mean about.
COOPER: But that's your faith.
COLBERT: My experience is the example of my mother and from what I read and experience of my particular faith extremely imperfectly. There is not another time line. This is it. And the bravest thing you can do is to accept with gratitude the world as it is. And then as Gandalf says, so to all people who are in such times.
COOPER: You told an interviewer that you have learned, in your words, "Love the thing that I most wish had not happened".
COLBERT: I don't remember that.
COOPER: You went on to say, "What punishments of God are not gifts". Do you really believe that?
COLBERT: Yes. It's a gift to exist. And with existence comes suffering. There is no escaping that. I guess I'm either a Catholic or a Buddhist when I say those things. I've heard those from both traditions. But I did not learn it, that I was grateful for the thing I most wish hadn't happened. Is that I realized it. And it is an oddly guilty feeling.
COOPER: It doesn't mean you're happy about it.
COLBERT: I don't want to have happened I want it to not have happened. But if you are grateful for your life, which I think is a positive thing to do, not everybody is and I'm not always. But it is the most positive thing to do. Then you have to be grateful for all of it. You can't pick and choose what you're grateful for.
And then, so what do you get from loss? You get awareness of other people's loss which allows to you connection with that other person which allows you to love more deeply and to understand what it is like to be a human being if it is true that all humans suffer.
And so at a young age, I suffered something so that by the time I was in serious relationships in my life, with friends or with my wife or with my children, is that I understand that everybody is suffering. And however imperfectly, acknowledge their suffering and to connect with them and to love them in a deep way.
That not only accepts that all of us suffer but also then makes you grateful for the fact that you have suffered so that you can know that about other people. And that's what I mean.
COLBERT: It's about the fullness of your humanity. What's the point of being here and being human? If you can be the most human you can be I'm not saying best because you're going to be a bad person and a most human. I want to be the most human I can be and that involves acknowledging and ultimately being grateful for the things that I wish didn't happen, because they gave me a gift.
COOPER: One of the things my mom would often say, is that, that she said I never ask why me? Like why did this happen to me? She would always say why not me? Why would me be exempt from sure of what has befallen everybody countless others over the centuries?
I think that's another thing that has helped me think, yes, of course, why not me? This is part of being alive. This is the suffering is, you know, the sadness, suffering, these are all, you know, you can't have happiness without having loss and suffering.
COLBERT: And in my tradition that's the great gift of the sacrifice of Christ is that God does it, too, that you're really not alone. God does it, too.
COOPER: I heard you say something once, you said that you don't proselytize because - something about it was basically that you don't proselytize, more Jesus for me.
COLBERT: Exactly, I don't really proselytize. I don't necessarily want to make anybody from my point of view, more Jesus for me. Here at the old heaven buffet, though I don't actually - I don't even have a well defined enough cosmology to have a sense of what's going to happen.
But I want to talk about those gifts of God, what punishments of God are not gifts. That's actually I'm quoting Tolkien there, that's not me. That's token because in Tolkien mythos there elves and men which are the children of Iluvatar (ph) which is the one God within the Tolkien mythos.
COOPER: And the elves live forever?
COLBERT: Elves live forever. They are part of the world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: Whom do we know who is an expert of all things "Lord of The Rings"? Folks, when I spent my entire teenage reading all of Tolkien not just the Hobbit and "The Lord of The Rings" I'm talking Former Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major, Leaf by Niggle. I knew I was preparing myself for something important. Why else would I ignore all my class work? Abadan sports and achieves a paleness I have yet to shake off?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Your mom, go to theater, wanted to be an actress?
COLBERT: Yes, she was going to Carnegie.
COOPER: Was that something that and she was then in Haiti for reasons I'm not sure--
COLBERT: I think it was Haiti. It was in the Caribbean.
COOPER: And she got really sick with a tropical disease.
COLBERT: Yes like classical like - a rare tropical disease, almost like a cartoon of a disease and she almost died.
COOPER: And then in that process of recovery ended up--
COLBERT: My dad said, will you marry me and instead of having an acting career, she started her own theater company, which was 11 children.
COOPER: An amazing - that's how it was. Did her desire to act, which was then given up to have this family was that something that you absorbed?
COLBERT: It seems obvious that that would be one of my motivators, that me with my mom/ward buddy in a way, we became very close friends that I would do this in some way for her, but it's self-evident, right?
Did not occur to me. Did not occur to me for many years. It really wasn't until she died that I realized a lot of what I did was still going back to making her happy from those early years after dad and the boys died. We remember distinctly when she left for the first time.
It was like a year later, something like that. But that's inside of you as a young person. You absorb that and digest that but aren't necessarily aware of that until much later. When my sister Mary said a very interesting thing after mom died is that we were all going through this normal grief of my mother's death and, as I said, after she died like we were so lucky to have her for so long but how long we had her--
COOPER: She was 92 when she died.
COLBERT: 92, exactly. It might seem selfish to want more of someone you've known so long but it merely amplifies the enormity of the room, whose door is now so quietly shut. You can't ever open that door again.
On top of that we realized, oh, now we also lost dad and the boys. In some ways we were here for her because of her loss for her husband and children. When she went, she kind of took them with her in a way. So we all, or at least I and I talked to a couple of my brothers and sister about this but I assume it's a fairly general thing, kind of re-experience that.
COLBERT: And there had been this delayed dealing all of that over 40- plus years. I realized in that moment, oh, damn, I wonder if I want to still do comedy because I kind of was doing this for her still enjoying it and having the love and friendship and camaraderie of it. But I realized oh the secret it was to make her laugh.
COOPER: Can you love your enemies? Can you love the people you dislike?
COLBERT: You certainly should. You certainly should.
COOPER: I don't know.
COLBERT: I suppose you can. I've seen people do it. COOPER: Do you try?
COLBERT: I've seen people do it. I don't hate. I try not to hate. People have come on the show and said I know you hate Trump. I'm like, no; I just don't trust the cat. And yes, I just said cat, daddio, can you dig it? Are you hip to that scene, daddio?
COOPER: I think that's how we'll end. Thank you. It was a really a pleasure to talk to you.
COLBERT: Nice talking to you, too.
COOPER: Thank you.
COLBERT: Anderson Cooper, everybody. We'll be right back.