Colbert gets a new way to satirize Trump with ‘Our Cartoon President’

When Stephen Colbert was about 8, he wrote a letter to President Richard Nixon about an issue very dear to his heart. 

“I said, ‘My name is Stephen Colbert and I believe we should have a continental flag. Can we at least have a conversation about this?’” the host of “The Late Show” recalled during a recent trip to the West Coast. “We have national flags and state flags, why don’t we have a continental flag?”

In return, Colbert received a book of photos of Nixon with children, “which you don’t picture,” he says. (Sadly, he no longer has the book.) A similar letter to Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau yielded no response, while a gracious staffer for Mexican President Luis Echeverria wrote back to say the idea had been floated at a recent cabinet meeting and “there was a lot of excitement” around it.

Forty-five years later, the nerdy youngster — or, as Colbert prefers to put it, “civically engaged” — who once corresponded with world leaders now has a growing TV comedy empire dedicated to telling politicians what he thinks.

After a wobbly start as David Letterman’s successor at CBS, Colbert has since turned the New York-based “The Late Show” into late night TV’s most-watched program, largely by providing nightly catharsis for millions of Americans distressed by the current state of politics.

And beginning Feb. 11, the former “Daily Show” correspondent will expand his satirical franchise with “Our Cartoon President,” an animated series lampooning the colorful personalities, complicated relationships and nonstop controversies of the Trump administration. Colbert is actively involved as an executive producer on the series, which will air on CBS’ sister network Showtime and shows up as a guest star in the series premiere.

On this afternoon, virtually the only thing anyone wants to talk about is “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” the dishy expose by Michael Wolff released a day earlier. That includes Colbert, who has had the book FedExed overnight.

“Our Cartoon President” will offer a different, more obviously fictionalized take on Trump and his inner circle, including First Lady Melania, grown children Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr., chief of staff John Kelly and embattled Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions. The 10-episode series will also skewer media personalities, such as the fawning hosts of Trump’s favorite morning program, “Fox & Friends.” The premiere episode, which is currently available to view on YouTube, follows Trump (Jeff Bergman) as he prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address, which the real president did Tuesday.

“We have a president with a cartoonish personality and ambitions so, in some ways, no world is better equipped to accommodate him comedically than a cartoon one,” says showrunner R.J. Fried, previously a writer for “Late Show With David Letterman.”

The series is a spinoff of a popular recurring segment devised by “The Late Show’s” lead animator, Tim Luecke, using pioneering live animation techniques. Produced with a two-to-three month lead time — in contrast to the weeklong turnaround for “South Park” — “Our Cartoon President” by design focuses on character-driven family comedy rather than piling on the daily news cycle.

“I don’t think we need another series of jokes about what Donald Trump did today,” Colbert says. Although there will be some timely references added at the last minute — a “stable genius” here, a “shithole countries” there — “this is about the interpersonal relationships between these people.’” But given the administration’s high turnover, the show’s long lead time is also something of a liability. As Colbert deadpans: “We have not invested a lot of effort into the Rex Tillerson character.”

“Late Show” showrunner Chris Licht, who is also an executive producer on “Our Cartoon President,” sees the show as “an extension of the Stephen Colbert brand that you see every night.”

And while most of Colbert’s creative energy goes into his nightly program, his influence on its animated spinoff is pervasive.

“We have a writers room that has followed Stephen since the beginning of ‘The Colbert Report,’” explains Fried, who calls Colbert “one of the sharpest satirists of my generation.” He continues, “Even when Stephen is not there, he is there in spirit because we are constantly thinking, ‘Will Stephen find this funny?’"

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