It had already been a long day by the time Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, arrived in "The Colbert Show" studio shortly before 7:00 pm yesterday.
Numerous meetings throughout the day on issues like Libya, Syria, and Sudan had chewed up much of the time she hoped to use to prepare for her first appearance on the show. Adding to the pressure, the show planned to feature her in two segments, something it has only done with a handful of guests.
Asked if she's ready for the interview she looked up from her briefing notes and confidently replied "I will be."
Later she would admit she had no time to prepare other than watching some recent episodes. "There's not much time to do a lot of prep on a typical day like today," she told ABC News in the green room after the show.
Stephen Colbert, the host of the Comedy Central show bounded out of his dressing room next door where he was huddling with his team of writers and producers.
"Hello!" he exclaimed, flashing the same mischievous grin that is the hallmark of his on-air alter ego, the faux-right wing commentator. He walked into Rice's room and introduced himself. "Madame Ambassador, hi, Stephen Colbert, great to meet you," he said warmly as the two chatted about the upcoming interview.
Minutes later he was prancing around the set of his show as an audience of 160 fans cheered him on. He did a lap of high fives around the room for good measure, soaking up the sort of cheering messianic welcome his egotistical character relishes. Not entirely in character yet, a more mild-mannered Colbert chatted with the audience before the taping began.
"Any questions to humanize me before I say these horrible things?" he asked. A dozen hands shot up immediately.
The audience had already been waiting in the studio for nearly two hours by the time the Colbert took the stage. Many had been waiting outside for hours longer, weathering a torrential downpour that soaked Manhattan earlier in the afternoon.
What is his favorite Tom Hanks movie, one young man asks? "That's a very… reasonable question," Colbert replied, hesitating for comedic effect. He finally settled on Forrest Gump. And how can a young actor make a living wage in improv, another inquired?
"Bon chance," chuckled Colbert, good luck, despite the fact that he himself is a veteran of the famed Chicago improv group Second City. "Become a writer," he suggested.
Parts of "The Colbert Report's" office on West 54th Street call to mind a college dormitory. There's a kitchen overstocked with all sorts of cereal, though the staff clearly favors the unhealthy varieties. (Chocolate Cheerios, anyone?) On one floor, writers share cramped offices stuffed with couches and posters cover the walls. In one office a staffer strummed an acoustic guitar.
Evidence of Colbert's rabid fan base is found throughout the building. Hundreds of pieces of art mailed in by fans adorn the hallways. Much of it is rather creative; almost all of it adopts his character's whimsical yet pointed satire. A portrait made out of colored rice? Check. Stephen fighting the bears his character fears? There are several of those. His face painted into a Star Wars scene? It hangs prominently over a conference table.