A Bill Murray sighting has become a cornerstone of many Charlestonian's lives — we eagerly anticipate it, and when it happens, life suddenly feels complete. But it's a well-known fact that we all long to spot hometown hero and television star Stephen Colbert as well. He's one of us, after all, raised both in James Island and downtown on East Bay Street. To meet him on one of his elusive visits home? Well, we could die happy.
Author Lisa Rogak understands Charleston's love of Colbert. A freelance journalist and biographer from New York, Rogak moved to Charleston in 2008 for a two-and-a-half-year stint. "I just really fell in love with everything, and I could live anywhere, so I decided to move there," she says.
It was while she was residing in our neck of the woods that Rogak came up with the inspiration to write about Colbert, the subject of her new book, And Nothing But the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert, which was released Oct. 11 by St. Martin's Press. "My former roommate in Charleston came up with the idea," Rogak says. "I knew I could take advantage of being familiar with the city and its dynamics and to be able to find people to interview."
The unauthorized biography investigates Colbert's life, from his family's history to his rise to fame, and onward to the March to Keep Fear Alive that he hosted last year at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. "The first chapter was all before he was born, but that is the most vital part of his life," Rogak explains.
Colbert was the last of 11 children born to a Catholic family in Maryland. The family relocated to James Island after his father accepted a post as the vice president of Academic Affairs at MUSC. The first part of the book chronicles Colbert's South Carolina childhood, including the tragic 1974 plane crash that claimed the life of his father and two of his brothers. It also details his education at Porter-Gaud School and Northwestern University as well as his time as a correspondent for The Daily Show and the debut of his own series, The Colbert Report.
"All comedians have some deep, dark tragedy in their childhood. They developed their talent in comedy to cope, to get through. He grew up on James Island on a dirt road before the plane crash, and then he moved to East Bay Street after the deaths," the author says. "He was thrown into the whole South of Broad environment, and that shaped his character in some way."
Rogak has written five biographies (including her latest one) on an eclectic array of celebrities. Her 2009 Stephen King biography, Haunted Life: The Life and Times of Stephen King, was nominated for an Edgar Award, and she edited the New York Times best-selling book Barack Obama: In His Own Words. She has also written biographies of Michelle Obama and Dr. Robert Atkins (of Atkins Diet fame). "Basically I get paid to ask total strangers really nosy questions. They love it, and I love it," Rogak says. "But every time I finish a biography, I say, 'You know what's going on my tombstone? No more fucking biographies!'"
She certainly didn't set out to become a biographer. "Everything I've ever done, I've always fell into. I was looking for a new agent nine or 10 years ago. I had written a lot of books on many different topics at that point."
Rogak hopes that her newest book will be as successful as her others have been — and also hopes that it will garner her an appearance on The Colbert Report. She says, "His character would skewer me. He's so quick, and his intelligence and knowledge base is so deep." She also thinks that it would be interesting to have Colbert's on-screen persona — the complete opposite from the nice guy she wrote about — interview her about the real Colbert. "It would be a total mindfuck, him as the character interviewing me, who wrote about the real person."