The Colbert Nation of Charity

Stephen Colbert makes good deeds part of the act

In his final show, Conan O’Brien joked about new possible uses for his “Tonight Show” studio – including “Hair and chest oil storage for the cast of ‘Jersey Shore.’” Stephen Colbert is doing him one better: auctioning off part of his set for good causes  – and for laughs.

The faux hard-hearted host -- and recent Grammy winner -- sold his interview table last week, raising more than $14,000 for the Red Cross’ Haiti earthquake relief effort. The latest item, his C-shaped desk ("C" for "Colbert"), notched a final bid of $14,800 late Monday night. The money will go to the Medical University of South Carolina’s Dr. James W. Colbert Endowed Chair, named for the host’s late father.

This comes on top of Colbert’s support of the Olympic speed skating team, where he rallied fans to give more than $300,000 after the main sponsor dropped out, and his embrace of veterans' causes following a week of "Colbert Report" taping in Iraq last June.

You almost wouldn't notice the good deeds for all the comic juice Colbert has squeezed out of the auction and Olympic campaign, portraying the efforts as an ego trip for a character obsessed with getting things named after him (the auction bit is called “Own a Piece of Histor-me”).

Colbert has gotten laughs signing Olympic skater Katherine Reutter’s thigh, and racing skater Shani Davis, who apparently didn’t get the comic’s blowhard act at first, and called him a “jerk” for insulting Canadians.

Comedy and giving back share a history. Bob Hope entertained U.S. troops through several wars, often making himself the butt of the joke. The Comic Relief shows in the U.S. raised money for the homeless. Jerry Lewis, of course, set the beneficence standard with his annual MDA Telethon.

Music stars, though, are generally the prime draw for emergency fundraisers, such as last month’s successful Hope for Haiti Now show.

For Colbert, charity isn’t necessarily a special event – between his website and show, he’s made modest fundraising a regular part of his act.

This week, a portrait of Colbert goes up for bid, for the benefit of the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which assists injured service members and their family. The painting features an imperious-looking Colbert clutching his Emmy, in an endless picture-within-a-picture depiction that hangs on his set.

The painting and its planned sale are good as evidence as any that there’s more than one side to Stephen Colbert.

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Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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