I can still remember the night the Colbert Report premiered.
It was the fall of my sophomore year in College. Nightly viewings of The Daily Show had become something of a ritual for myself a few other denizens of the 2nd floor Aquinas dorm. We had come to terms with another for years of George W. and I was likely consuming a bottle of coke with a pair of pop tarts. As Jon Stewart signed off are gaze did not waiver from the tv for starting that night, the ritual no longer ended at 11:30. The screen split as Jon traded banter with a sarcastic Stephen and moments later, The Colbert Report began.
The rest is history.
Truthiness, Papa Bear, Colbert Super Pac, Stephen Colbert rode a pitch perfect right-wing conservative wave of satire for 1447 glorious episodes.
He didn't start there. I do remember distinctly thinking the Daily Show was the more entertaining and interesting of the two programs early on. Colbert was clever but felt one dimensional and his mostly intellectual guests didn't quite know what to make of the character of "Stephen Colbert".
The great leap forward (at least for me) came with the writer's strike. Dozens of shows on television went dark when the writer's strike hit in 2007. Late night programming tried to remain on, at the benefit of the crews that worked on the show. Many of these shows, such as Letterman and Late Night with Conan O'Brien clearly suffered from the absence of it's writing staff. In truth, most of the shows that stayed on were borderline unwatchable, save for two: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
In this setting Colbert didn't just stay the course he was made stronger, sharper. Perhaps without a group of writers he was forced to look to himself, explore what made his character the way he was, ask what it was his character would think about anything and everything going on in the world. Whatever it was, Colbert found a second gear that hadn't been there before. The result was a flood of wit and innuendo that turned the horrifying into the absurd and the absurd into the familiar.
Possibly the greatest talent of Colbert was his ability to conceal common sense and then reveal it again like a magician. The number of tricks and gags Colbert had hiding up his sleeves was endless, and you never saw them coming no matter how closely he let you look.
Colbert with his character explored the very edges of cultural satire. It was something he did so well that it earned him the respect of celebrities and politicians across the ideological spectrum. It was something he was so dedicated to he often fooled those he was mocking into thinking he was fighting the good fight on their behalf.
It might be unfair to give the crown of "Show of the Year" to The Colbert Report, but as Colbert himself might have said "The rules exist to benefit me." The Colbert Report wasn't just the best show of 2014, it was the best thing on television the last nine years. (Nearly) Every night. From start to finish. It was all Colbert.