For humorist and father of three Stephen Colbert, laughs are the key to his success on and off the set.
On Emmy-winning news satire The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert plays a smug senior analyst of anything and everything -- senior UN analyst, senior media analyst, senior death analyst. Back at home in New York City with his three kids, Madeline, 8, Peter, 5, and John, 2, Colbert explains that he and his wife, Evelyn McGee, an at-home mom, rely just as much on laughs in their parenting.
Do your kids think you're funny?
They think I'm silly. I do silly things. I fall down and run into things. I talk to inanimate objects. I'll hold a pickup stick to my ear and say, "What? What's that? I can't hear you."
How do you foster a sense of humor in your children?
By valuing it. For a solid year, Madeline and I made up jokes on the spot before she went to bed. One of hers was "What did the cow say?" What? "Ruff." Why? "He had a dog in his mouth."
How does working in comedy help you be a dad?
It helps defuse sad or tense situations. It's hard to laugh and cry at the same time. If my son scrapes his knee, I'll say, "You seem to have scraped your ear very badly."
Do your kids understand your job?
They understand that I make people laugh and that I ask silly questions. But children don't get irony or sarcasm. It just sounds mean to them.
Do you have a TV policy at home?
During the week, the kids are allowed a half-hour a day. On the weekends, when Mom and Dad try to sleep in, all bets are off. I've instituted a new rule that when commercials come on, my daughter has to press "mute." Otherwise, Peter falls into a trance: I want that. I want that. I hear, and I obey. We also have TiVo, which Evie and I love because we can regulate their watching. We decide with the kids what to record, like Sagwa and MythQuest. I'll also record adult shows they might like, such as Modern Marvels on the History Channel.
Does your sense of humor ever fail you?
I can be just as snippy as the next person. But I try not to take myself too seriously. Comedy often relies on decreasing the status of one person, like a rich guy in a top hat slipping on a banana peel. My kids do that to me. Once, when my wife took the afternoon off, I had them all crying five minutes after she left. I couldn't believe how wildly out of control things got so quickly. I was yelling at them, and my daughter asked why. I said that I was trying to teach them how to behave. She said, "This is how you teach children? By making them cry?" I was so outmatched by this 6-year-old. She had thrown the banana peel my way. I had to laugh.
Do you have any parenting mantras?
- Never underestimate kids' tenacity. Raising a child is like wrestling a small but relentless opponent.
- You can't beat children in a logic battle. Their simple minds are better at it. Go with what adults are good at: Tyrannical Authority.
- Any child's meal -- breakfast, lunch, or dinner -- can be improved by the addition of a toaster waffle.
- Want to get your kids to eat vegetables? Accept that waffles are vegetables.
Marisa Milanese is a writer and college English teacher in Columbia, MO.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the March 2004 issue of Child magazine.