Stephen can be seen on the cover,
between the one and the first zero

Stephen Colbert
What's So Funny About This Guy?

By BRIAN WILLIAMS

Many people are surprised to learn that Stephen Colbert was born in France. As a young boy in the town of Fronsac in the Bordeaux region, he would go home each day after school and work for his parents on the family farm. After his father's goat-cheese business failed, Colbert went by boat to the U.S. To help make ends meet (and egged on by friends who adored his Franco-American delivery and comic timing), Colbert performed at a small comedy club in New York City one Friday night on a lark. As the French say, "Il a tue [He killed]!" You know the rest of the story.

Actually, none of that is true. I made the whole thing up. And in that, this piece has a lot in common with The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Colbert, 41, is the bawdy counterweight to cable-news talking heads who each night, just a few channels away, deliver a fresh supply of material for parody. In Colbert Country, a guest is more of a foil than a source of intelligence. The high and mighty drop by anyway, along with the mediocre and recently demoted. As a spin-off graduate of the Jon Stewart school of comedy, Colbert launched under intense scrutiny and quickly delivered. While his nightly audience is tiny (forgive me here) by network-evening-news standardsó1 million viewers a night vs. roughly 25 million to 30 million watching the networksóColbert is sitting atop a ratings gold mine, as his young viewers make up the demographic most attractive to advertisers.

My friends tell me that Colbert's mimicry of the narcissistic, preening, puffed-up personalities who inhabit TV news these days is spot on. Personally, I don't see it, but they find him very funny.

Williams is the anchor and managing editor of the NBC Nightly News


Philip Seymour Hoffman
The Actor Who Is Always "There"

By VANESSA REDGRAVE

The warm consonants of his name and my daughter Natasha Richardson's excited reaction when I told her that Philip Seymour Hoffman was cast to play Jamie Tyrone to my Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey into Night stoked my imagination. I didn't know his work when we first sat down to read the play, and I didn't know the man when the Tyrone family took its last bow on Broadway in August 2003. But I saw this conjuror bring Jamie Tyrone out of the obscurity that embeds the greatest of scripts. No, I didn't see the conjuror. That's the whole point. I never saw the conjuror. Jamie Tyrone appeared. When? I don't know. The desperate, accusing eyes of the drunk looked hard into the eyes of his mother the morphine addict. A thousand horrible and tender memories pierced through the addictions, demanding appeasement at all costs. All this long before costume, hair and makeup. Harold Pinter writes of the great Irish actor Anew McMaster's King Lear and Othello. You see the old man in his 60s; you see and hear the actor's greatness. I can convey only a faint impression of Hoffman. If he had maintained his tousled hair and rehearsal trousers, he would still have been Jamie. Seven times a week, Hoffman propelled himself with one deep groan into the darkness of the stage, and as Pinter says of McMaster, "He got there." And he has stayed there; Hoffman, 38, won the Best Actor Oscar this year for his portrayal of Truman Capote. I hope I get to see him play King Lear when he's 50.

Redgrave won a Tony Award in 2003 for her portrayal of Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey into Night


POWER COUPLES

Sarah Jessica Parker & Matthew Broderick
The rank among the most popular actors in the U.S., with dozens of films, TV and stage performances between them, plus four Golden Globes, two Emmys and two Tonys. Parker is also a fashion icon (she has starred in Gap ads) and a UNICEF ambassador, while Broderick raises money for AIDS research.