|Erin Ptah (ptahrrific) wrote,|
@ 2006-08-03 09:31 am UTC
|Entry tags:||story: the robert report|
Warnings: Drunkenness. (No debauchery, though.)
Disclaimer: The Colbert Report and its characters are the creation of Stephen Colbert, Eric Drysdale, and the other writers. Characters used without permission - but with love (and, more importantly from a legal standpoint, without profit).
Notes: And this part was written during an eight-hour car ride. I'm making up the Report's rehearsal schedule based around the idea that they broadcast live from 11:30 to midnight.
Bobby catches forty winks, Stephen knocks back several drinks, and the Ghost of Daily Show Past causes a big stink, bringing our heroes to the brink. Will they make it, do you think? (Don't blink.)
This is the closing referenced; but it isn't deeply involved in the plot, which also refers to comparing ears, failed pull-squints, Bobby's religion, a certain pillow, hurling candy, and, well, a whole lot of other things. Table of contents is here.
The Robert Report, part 6: The Closing
Not five minutes after the third exorcist leaves, the Ghost of Daily Show Past (as they've taken to calling the spirit) drops in again.
The staff is mid-rehearsal, although they've paused so that Stephen can give orders from his chair about a particularly complex graphic idea that he's just thought of. He's in the middle of explaining how the lighting changes mid-graphic (and Bobby makes a note to remind Peter not to make a fuss about how the angle being described is not technically possible), when he stops.
The Ghost has appeared.
It wobbles calmly into view, sitting in the front row of the empty audience box. Yes, Bobby notes with dismay, sitting; it's not just a floating head any more. It's the full figure of Jon from head to foot: classy suit, wry smile, a handful of papers that—despite being translucent and grey like the rest of him—manage to give the impression of being powder blue. There's none of this "ooooOOOOOooOooOOOo" business any more, either. When he speaks, it's in the voice that personified, and still personifies, The Daily Show.
"That's a really complicated graphic," the Ghost remarks.
Stephen froze when he was in Commanding Chief mode, and his face hasn't changed since; only his eyes have shifted to an expression normally reserved for bear attacks.
"Sure you don't want to do something simple?" continues the Ghost. "A few clips, some explosions, and a title, that's all we needed. Oh, and a clever pun. 'Run, forest, run!'"
"That's not really our style," Jimmy begins through the speakers.
"Wouldn't it be easier, though?" asks the Ghost, and Bobby makes a slashing gesture at the camera behind him, hoping Jimmy will be savvy enough not to answer. It would be easier—that's a fact—but to say so will only encourage the Ghost.
Stephen, thankfully, speaks up. "Bobby? How much did we pay that last exorcist?"
"Um," says Bobby, glancing at the invoice on his clipboard, "nothing. We got the guy who hosts Con to hire her."
"Good. It won't be hard to get our money back."
"Oh, she was a fake," the Ghost assures them. "Now, the second one—he knew what he was doing. But you don't really want to get rid of me, do you, Stephen?"
The host sets his jaw and tenaciously focuses his gaze on all the things in the room that do not resemble Jon Stewart. "Can we get the text in a marquee? And add some color." He looks over at the stage manager. "I'm going to need a baseball cap. Bobby, pick one of those up for me."
"Sure." Bobby makes a note of it, then glances at the Ghost.
"I'll come back later," it says with Jon's voice, and fades out.
During dinner hour, Bobby retreats to his office and gives The Daily Show's new studio a call. He works his way through two operators before he gets to someone who remembers him from his own days on the show and patches him straight through.
He isn't sure if Jon will remember him, but the first words from the familiar voice (with the familiar man himself behind it this time) are, "Bobby! What's up? Make it quick; they want me down in editing in five minutes, and if I'm not there we'll get the monkey-washing-a-cat clip popping up in the middle of a presidential montage. Actually, that's not a bad idea. How are things at the Report?"
"They're fine," replies Bobby, with perfect truthiness.
"I've been watching; they look great. Even saw you a few times. You handle it well."
Bobby's too flustered for a moment to do anything but stammer, "Thanks."
Fortunately, the man on the other end of the phone is no stranger to keeping up a conversation. "So how's Stephen? He hasn't called me back since the other day. Is he okay?"
Bobby leans back in his chair (it's the only nice thing in his office; on a salary like his, shabby décor is the trade-off necessary for a comfortable seat) and wonders where to begin. But Jon's voice is so friendly and accepting and genuine that he settles on the facts.
"Jon, we are being haunted by the ghost of The Daily Show."
There's a pause, but not a long one.
"I thought something like that might happen," the host admits.
"Especially when so many of you guys got your start with us," continues Jon. "It's the one thing I can't help you with—the Report can't come up with its own identity separate from The Daily Show if I'm hovering over it. You have to work on your ideas and trademarks and clever stuff, without my influence, if you're going to establish yourselves as a show in your own right. Know what I mean?"
Bobby is getting the sense that Jon doesn't know what he, Bobby, means. But he does understand the advice. "Yeah, I know."
"Listen, I gotta go. You'll be fine; just trust yourselves. Talk to you later. Take care of Stephen for me."
"Will do. 'Bye," says Bobby, and only after the phone has gone dead does he wonder what that meant.
Had Bobby bothered to think about it, he would have realized that he was dreaming. The insane clown with the knife would have been the first clue.
But, in the way that dreams go, he doesn't think much of it; and so he doesn't realize that he's sleeping at work, until someone calls his name and the clown turns into Stephen.
Bobby opens his eyes. He's in his usual post during the show, next to the audience seating; but he's sitting down and leaning against the side, the audience has disappeared, most of the crew is gone, and the regular lights are back on. The show is over. Once Bobby realizes this, the resulting panic-induced adrenaline surge wakes him up completely.
"I'm very sorry, Stephen—I didn't realize I was this tired—"
"Don't worry about it," says the host, and Bobby is completely baffled until he notices Killer sweeping stage left and watching them meaningfully.
There's nobody else in sight, and then Bobby notices that Stephen is no longer in his suit; he's stripped down to the shirt and—are those jeans?
If it weren't a collared shirt with gold cufflinks, he could almost be called casual.
"The rest of the crew has cleared out. What do you say we call it a night and head downtown?"
Bobby blinks a few times, and covertly pinches himself to make sure he's really awake. When it turns out that he is, he gets to his feet. "I don't know, Stephen. I have a lot of work to do . . . ."
"Only if I say so," counters Stephen.
(To truly get rid of Bobby's to-do list, Stephen would have to fire him. Bobby's not sure if Stephen's aware of this or not. He hopes not.)
"No, really, there are things that I need to take care of . . . setting up the next exorcist, making the appointment with that senator, ordering those balloons you wanted. Besides, isn't this something you should be doing with your friends?"
Stephen's face flickers, then he gets the warm grin back on track. "You are my friend, Bobby. You're my . . . what's that religion of yours?"
"Right, right. You're my Univerlitananascientowiccarin friend. Now, go get your coat."
Bobby didn't miss the flicker, and he's savvy enough to know what it means. "Okay, Stephen," he acquiesces, trying to pull off his headset without putting down his clipboard or losing his glasses. (It's a losing battle.) "Just give me a few minutes to get ready."
Being at a bar with Stephen turns out to be just like being at work with him, except that there's dirty snow all over the floor and no convenient banks of seats in which to contain the audience.
At first, Stephen tries to deal with the other patrons in roughly the same way he deals with fans. Instead of hurling candy and compliments, he buys everyone a drink. But then he insists on withholding each drink until he's asked the recipient, "George Bush: great president or greatest president?" (Bobby ends up standing at the side of the queue, warning each person in turn: "Just say 'greatest' and he'll buy you a double.")
A few women hit on Stephen in the course of this, and he cheerfully explains that he's married, then starts to pitch Formula 401. They all have second thoughts.
At least one man hits on him as well, but Stephen, being Stephen, completely misses the subtext, and his pursuer eventually gives up.
Nobody hits on Bobby. With the charm rolling from his boss in waves the way it is, it's a wonder anybody even notices he's there.
Eventually they end up in a booth at the side of the room, and after he's downed three American Beauties ("the only drink for a true patriot"), it becomes clear that Stephen is a sad drunk. Still angry—this is Stephen Colbert, after all—but in a profoundly depressing way.
Bobby sips his latte (thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for the ubiquity of Starbucks; there's one right next door) and listens as his boss rants.
"An' anoth'r thing . . . 'm sick a' hearin' 'bout Jon Stewart's ears," the host mumbles, glaring angrily at the table. "Stupid . . . nothin' wrong with my ears . . . the crowd loved 'em. You like my ears, don'cha, Bobby?" He attempts a probing stare, which would be more effective if he weren't focusing on Bobby's left shoulder.
"Your ears are fine, Stephen," says Bobby mildly, after the third stare attempt fails and his boss gives up on the idea.
"'S'right." Stephen reaches for his right ear and succeeds in knocking his glasses askew.
"Do you need some help?" ventures Bobby.
"'Course not. 'S th' pull-squint. 'S ezzackly what I meant t'do." Using both hands, Stephen manages to get his glasses off without poking himself in the eye more than once. "See . . . Jon can't do that, hm?"
Bobby thinks back to the phone conversation from earlier that day. "Maybe you should just . . . try not to think about Jon for a while," he suggests tentatively.
Stephen shakes his head. "Can't."
"I don't see why not. If it bothers you so much, focus on something else." This is as bold as Bobby's ever been around Stephen, and it's only because the host won't remember it the next morning.
Another shake of the head, although this might be because Stephen's lost control of it: he catches it in both hands a moment later and plants his elbows squarely on the table to steady themselves (nearly crushing his glasses, which Bobby swiftly pulls to a safer location).
"Can't. Can't stop thinkin' 'bout Jon, or 'bout Alan, or . . . I miss 'm, Bobby, I . . . ."
There are lots of things that could be said to this (you talk to Jon every night, and Alan works in the same building), but Bobby doesn't say them. Instead he puts out his hand and awkwardly pats his boss on the shoulder. Then he leaves it there, because Stephen is shaking, and seems to need the support.
Stephen has never cared for facts, but this one cannot be avoided: he's not to be trusted in a car tonight.
Bobby barely gets him to walk back to the studio, though the cold of the air (it being the dead of night in a New York winter and all) helps a bit. Stephen's office is much nicer than Bobby's: it has paintings, several plush chairs, a polished hardwood desk, and a couch (which is too plain for the rest of the room, but looks suspiciously similar to the one The Daily Show auctioned off when it moved). The host is out cold within moments of collapsing onto this couch.
Bobby, though, is wide awake; the coffee has taken its toll. He takes a minute to leave a message on Lorraine's machine saying that they're swamped with work and Stephen has crashed at the office, but he loves her and will see her tomorrow, and good luck to his son on that science project. (Stephen hasn't actually said any of this, but Bobby has found that the longer it's been since his wife has threatened to leave him, the easier he is to work with.)
That done, Bobby takes a seat in one of Stephen's chairs (all of which are much more cozy than his own) and looks over at the sleeping man on the couch.
"I'm your friend," he says experimentally.
It sounds odd.
"I'm your stage manager," he tries.
That works. But something's missing.
"I'm your . . ." he begins, hoping the missing phrase will fill itself in.
No such luck.
Bobby takes Stephen's glasses out of his pocket and sets them on the desk, next to a framed photo of Lorraine and the kids.
He then retrieves an American-flag-patterned pillow and tucks it under his boss' head.
"I'm your," says Bobby quietly. "If—if that's okay with you. If that isn't too gay, or too sentimental, or whatever."
Stephen doesn't object.
"We're all your," he continues. "Your staff, your crew, your friends, your audience, your Nation. We start out as ordinary people, and then you make us yours, and that makes us special. I mean, all someone has to do is watch your show to be a hero. So what does that make me?"
"I don't know," says Bobby. "But I'm going to keep being it, for as long as I can."
Stephen's breath is slow and even.
Outside, the wind starts to scream. Bobby ignores it, settles back into the most comfortable chair, and waits for sleep.
If there is one thing Bobby is best at, it's making sure things—and people—are in the right place at the right time.
When he wakes up late the next morning, he slips down to the restroom to wash his face, puts on a fresh Report T-shirt, swings by the Starbucks for an extra-tall cappucino with cinnamon, and gets to work. By the time Stephen wakes up, Bobby is not only all caught up, but ready with brunch: a glass of orange juice, two aspirin, and a stack of toast with the Helen Thomas faces carefully scraped off.
That takes care of the things.
When the rest of the crew starts to arrive, Bobby personally gives everybody two messages. The first is to keep the volume down today, as Stephen isn't feeling well. The second is where to be, and when.
That, hopefully, takes care of the people.
Pretty soon the news feeds are playing, the computers are humming, and the process of creating that night's Report is in full swing.
"The right time" comes just as they're gearing up for rehearsal, when the lights start to flicker. Stephen, now sporting a new suit and freshly combed hair, looks nervously up from his chair. Stephen nods to Jimmy via the camera behind him, then walks out onstage.
"Stop with the lights, Daily Show Past," orders Stephen. "We know you're there."
There's a dark pause, and then the lights return to their normal glow as the Ghost of Daily Show Past materializes in front of the desk. "You don't sound happy to see me," it says, voice mock-hurt.
"You're ruining my spotlights," Stephen points out.
"Only trying to get your attention. Sorry about that."
"Why are you here?" cuts in Bobby. He can see, out of the corner of his eye, people gathering around the edges of the room. Good.
The Ghost turns to him, surprised. "Why am I . . . Isn't it obvious?" It claps its hands, as a demonstration: they pass through each other. "I'm dead. —Hey, this is pretty cool."
It waves its arms through each other with Jon's bemused half-smile on its face, then turns the smile on Stephen, who catches his breath.
"But I don't really want me to be dead," it explains. "Do you, Stephen?"
"Why not?" protests Bobby. "You are dead. That can't change."
"Sure, it can," says Jon's voice brightly. "The studio's still here. You guys are still here. You just have to come back."
Stephen hasn't moved; the Ghost now takes a step towards him, and then another.
"You liked it at The Daily Show. No bleeding walls, no failing lights. Nobody telling you that Jon Stewart is sexier than you are. No attacks, no worrying about graphics, no fiascos with people on toast or helium balloons that won't fall. It was much nicer, remember?"
Bobby starts moving, because he can see that if Stephen's resolve were personified it would be a pillar, and it would be crumbling.
"Come back, Stephen," says the Ghost gently, opening its arms. "Rob, Ed, Sam, Stephen, and Jon—the crack team of correspondents that was The Daily Show. Remember that? You could bring that back." It's at the desk, voice low, eyes locked on Stephen's. "We could be us again."
"No," says Bobby from over Stephen's shoulder, "you couldn't."
The Ghost looks up, confused, and Stephen breathes again. It's a start.
"I mean," continues Bobby, licking his lips nervously, "that time is over, and it's not coming back, no matter how much you try to scare us. You're, you're gone."
"What do you know about it?" snaps the Ghost. "You're just a gofer!"
All of a sudden, Bobby is ticked off. "Not any more," he snaps back. "I've been promoted. Things change. This is a new show. Can't you see that?"
He gestures around at the studio: at the lights, at the furniture, at the very lines on the floor. "Do you see the way this room looks now? Do you see how everything in here is pointing towards Stephen? That's reality. This isn't The Daily Show, and it never will be again. This . . ."
All at once his courage fails him, because the Ghost's expression has twisted into something never seen on the real Jon's face: something feral and angry and terrifying.
But he's gone far enough, because the rest of the crew has gathered behind him, and they finish the sentence in ragged but deafening chorus:
". . . is The Colbert Report!"
The triumphant cry of an eagle rings through the studio, overwhelming the Ghost's last shriek as it shatters and vanishes.
"And that," says Stephen decisively into the resulting silence, "is the truth!"