During the interview, when chatting about Keith Olbermann and his new role as a program host on Current TV, Al Gore revealed that Stephen Colbert is actually "presenting a character" in his role as program host.
For Colbert, who always strives to remain in character, the revelation offered an uncomfortable yet funny twist to the discussion of Current TV and Gore's recent work on climate change. You can watch the video of the interview below:
Research by fellow political communication scholars LaMarre, Landreville, and Beam, published in the April 2009 issue of The International Journal of Press/Politics actually tested whether viewers correctly "understood" Colbert's in-character presentation. (I also happen to like the Becker & Scheufele piece in the same issue, but I'm a bit biased).
Anyway, back to comedy .... LaMarre et al.'s research is summarized in a related piece in Miller-McCune. Specifically:
"What they found was that the more liberal participants reported their own ideology to be, the more liberal they thought Colbert was. And the more conservative they reported their own ideology to be, the more conservative they thought Colbert was. Both, however, found him equally funny."
So there you have it, both liberals and conservatives find Colbert funny but they disagree as to what he is trying to accomplish with his "character." For liberals, Colbert is truly more liberal politically but for conservatives, Colbert is a bit more conservative. We academics (and LaMarre et al. in particular) attribute this variance in interpretations of Colbert's character to confirmation bias -- viewers see what they want to see in shows like The Colbert Report in part so they can find some support -- or confirmation -- for their own political views.
Colbert's recent endorsement of "Rick Parry" in the Iowa Straw Poll and his Colbert Super PAC funded political commercials have encouraged the media and academics to again question whether viewers are correctly understanding Colbert's "character" and even more importantly, whether Colbert can have a considerable impact on the 2012 presidential campaign.
While it looks like we'll never know how many voted for "Parry" in the Iowa Straw Poll, it seems pretty clear that Colbert will continue to insert himself and his Super PAC into the 2012 GOP nomination process. Whether voters in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, or even Colbert's own South Carolina will correctly "get" Colbert's character remains to be seen.