Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist fears no one in Washington. But it took him a while to figure out how to successfully mix things up with faux-conservative interviewer Stephen Colbert.
Norquist, who is no stranger to verbally jousting with opponents on the Sunday news shows — “You get it. They have liberal assumptions tucked inside a question … you deal with it,” he said of the standard us vs. them rhetorical smack down — told HOH he held The Colbert Report producers at bay about appearing on the show for over a year because he had some trouble wrapping his head around how to engage with Colbert’s TV persona.
“Colbert pretends to be your friend, then hands you the bait. But there’s a hook in it,” Norquist said of the Comedy Central newsman’s ability to lead folks on with his right-leaning aura, but then slip in leftist jabs.
In the run-up to his first appearance on the show — Norquist wound up in the hot seat twice, and participated in the farewell group sing on the final night of the show (more on that in a second) — Norquist said he studied nearly a dozen interviews Colbert had conducted with other well known conservatives to see if he could glean a few pointers.
Per Norquist, Colbert actually peeled back the veil when the two met in the green room before that first appearance.
“He said, ‘Look, how you deal with me is, you’re at a cocktail party. You meet someone who’s had a little too much to drink. And he thinks he knows something about you. But he doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about. And the more drunk he gets, the more sure he is about being right,’” Norquist said of the breakthrough moment. “And I thought to myself, I get that all the time.”
Once in possession of the magic formula, Norquist was able to relax and enjoy the ride — even if that meant still being the butt of the joke from time to time.
According to Norquist, prepping for that first Colbert Report show was only slightly less stressful than sitting down with “60 Minutes.” But he appreciated being able to reach an entirely different audience (“People who might not read National Review,” he said), and enjoyed matching wits with the host.
Same goes for “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart, whom Norquist referred to as “very well prepared” and “smart.”
As for that final show , Norquist said is was a surreal experience.
“There were 50 people in the green room that night,” he said, ticking off sex advice columnist Dan Savage, Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and an extreme mountain climbing enthusiast as just some of the people he rubbed elbows with before stepping on stage that night.
“Everybody there was a little bit nervous about remembering the words,” Norquist shared of the pre-sing-along jitters that seemed to sweep through the crowd.
Once they got rolling, everyone just went with it.
“It was like the 'We Are the World' of people who do cable television,” he said of the star-studded send off.
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