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30 Best ‘Colbert Report’ Bits

From big gay roundups to the Blitzkrieg on Grinchitude, we count down the faux-political pundit’s greatest recurring segments and in-jokes

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert

Scott Gries

After December 18, the Colbert Nation will have to go on without its leader. The Colbert Report will air its final show that day, drawing the curtain down on one of the great political satires-cum-secret variety shows ever. You may be asking, "How will we remember this program and its brilliant faux-conservative host Stephen Colbert?" Well, Greg, by counting down the show's 30 greatest recurring segments. From big gay roundups to the difference makers around us, these deadpan, fake-news flashes of comedic genius will endure long after Stephen starts playing himself on his CBS show in 2015.

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On Notice

Akin to Nixon's enemies list, Colbert's "On Notice" board was where people and things that angered the host were immortalized for eternal contempt. Jane Fonda, limey squirrel eaters, Barbra Streisand, the Toronto Raptors, OK Go, business casual … they all know what they've done. And in a sign of the Report's importance to the young voters he was trying to reach, Barack Obama put in an appearance during the 2008 campaign to request that "distractions" be added to the board.

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Atone Phone

The Colbert Report proved that any holiday, no matter how holy, could be an excuse for the host to focus on his own bottomless self-importance. "Atone Phone" would show up every year around Rosh Hashanah — or, as the pseudo-pundit would say it, "Rosh Hashashashashanah" — so that Jewish celebrities who had wronged him could call and apologize. (Folks like Jeff Tweedy and Gilbert Gottfried duly obliged.) Now that the show is ending, hopefully 1-888-MOSS-LEW won't have to worry about getting 1-888-OOPS-JEW's messages anymore.

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Difference Makers

Reminiscent of "Nailed 'Em" in construction and tone, "Difference Makers" was a series of deadpan video segments where the producers would interview everyday individuals who were under the mistaken impression that they were making principled stands. Draping his subjects in faux glory, Colbert let his clueless on-camera participants — whether it be a self-righteous task force harassing meter maids or Canadian authorities cracking down on local bong-like mascots — provide the unintentional laughs. Weirdly, though, the segment never seemed cruel: As always, Stephen's inherent kindness kept the bits from becoming mean.

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Yahweh or No Way

Declaring himself "America's most famous Catholic," Colbert the character has been a subversive way for Colbert the person to demonstrate his faith with more humanity and less dogma than is displayed by the Religious Right. (It's a toss-up between Stephen and Pope Francis for Best Catholic Rebrander of the 21st Century.) "Yahweh or No Way" was one-stop shopping for recent religious news, with the star divining God's stance on everything from Christian Mingle to the new English translation of Catholic mass introduced in 2011. No program has made deep-cut Bible passages so damn funny.

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People Who Are Destroying America

The Report has a few different video segments where the host narrates his voiceover in comically serious tones over a dim-witted pretaped bit. But "People Who Are Destroying America" was the best, specifically because of a moving, hilarious August 2013 bit about Johnny Cummings, an openly gay mayor in a backwoods Kentucky small town. Colbert assumes the townsfolk will be (like him) incensed;  instead, the bit discovers a beautifully open-minded community that's wholly welcoming of Cummings and his sexuality. "I always watch The Colbert Report," Cummings later told Mother Jones about agreeing to the segment. "To get your point across, sometimes you just gotta laugh."

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The Sport Report

Because he represents Average Joe American, Colbert loves football and finds baseball absolutely terrible. (Proving they're good sports, the folks at MLB let him take over their Twitter account for a day in 2011 to help make it less boring.) "The Sport Report" mocks ESPN's fiery graphics while the comedian shows off his lack of knowledge for every sport he covers. Because the real-life Colbert is such a fantasy/sci-fi nerd, "The Sport Report" is probably pretty far out of his personal expertise, but his character was able to tap into the country's kick-ass, macho-bro bloodlust.

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Alpha Dog of the Week

Sometimes, boorish behavior is so outlandish and unapologetic that you have to tip your cap. Hence, "Alpha Dog of the Week," which paid tribute to the world's biggest hypocrites and un-self-aware fools, like Scott DesJarlais, a pro-life, family-values Republican congressman who, in 2012, urged his mistress to have an abortion — a decision Colbert defended with circling-the-wagons conviction. "He is still adamantly against abortion," the host explained, "except when it endangers the political life of the father."

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Cheating Death With Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A.

The segment with the greatest amount of enjoyable regular features, "Cheating Death" was a marvel of comedic anticipation. Each installment began with one of two variations of a parody of The Seventh Seal's chess-playing-with-the-Grim-Reaper sequence. Then Colbert would carefully explain that, as a doctor of fine arts, he couldn't cure your illness but, rather, entertain you in some oddly specific way. The endless riffs on the general terribleness of Prescott Pharmaceuticals, the inspired new medicines based on real-life scientific breakthroughs, the horrendous side effects: Please tell us "Cheating Death" will be part of Stephen's CBS show. Otherwise, we'll see you in health!

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A core principle of Fox News is scaring the shit out of its audience with as much alarmist news as possible. The Report's response was the "ThreatDown," a countdown of mostly benign things that Colbert insisted posed grave threats to the Republic. Terrorist furniture, iPhones, jazz robots … all of them earned the man's ire. But above all, bears terrified the fictional host, who made them a regular staple of the segment. There was a happy ending, though: Colbert made peace with the killing machines in the final month of the show, even making out with a (fake) bear on camera.

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Better Know a District

When Colbert was on The Daily Show, he made for a fantastic correspondent, his believable idiocy sparking good TV from his helpless, straitlaced interview subjects. He channeled that talent into "Better Know a District," his series of chats with members of the House of Representatives. Congressmen and women knew they were the embarrassed, undignified butts of Colbert's lame-brained character — and Nancy Pelosi even encouraged Democrats not to participate — but they kept going on, anyway. As a Republican strategist told The New York Times in 2006, "The younger staffs of these folks are convincing their bosses that if you really want to be president of the United States some day, you've got to get in with the crowd on Comedy Central."

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Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger

"If you read the Bible, then you know that our Lord said, 'Judge not, lest thee be judged.' I say, 'Speak English, Jesus.' This is 'Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger.'" One of the Report's longest-running bits, this segment gave Colbert a chance to sound off on most everything in the news, scolding and praising with equal aplomb. There wasn't anything especially clever about the premise: It was just the thrill of dumb ol' Colbert having the platform to mouth off yet again. A consistently scathing takedown of cable news's unquenchable thirst for Viewpoints and Hot Takes, "Tip/Wag" is the comedian's "Like a Rolling Stone," the big popular favorite that everybody loves because it's just plain terrific.

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The Word

How many talk shows lay out their thesis statement in the first episode? With the debut of "The Word," Colbert introduced us to the concept of "Truthiness" — the adherence to what feels true as opposed to what is true. It both perfectly articulated the Fox News ethos while providing the guiding principle for the Report's next nine years. A riff on Fake Colbert's inspiration Bill O'Reilly and his "Talking Points" feature, the segment let the host go off on a pointed political essay while his own graphics board added an ironic side commentary to every dumb thing the nincompoop pundit was saying. The segment encapsulated all that was astounding about The Colbert Report: It was politically astute but not didactic, thought-provoking but light on its feet, hilarious but also deeply felt. And that's the word.

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