There are two Stephen Colberts.
There's the real Stephen Colbert, a comedian and churchgoing dad, a nice guy. But there's also "Stephen Colbert," the pundit who hosts Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," a basic-cable blowhard whom Colbert once described as a "well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot."
It's not always easy to tell them apart, just as it's not easy to distinguish between the real world of politics and the parallel comedy universe where "Stephen Colbert" is a serious pundit and politicos traverse to prove their hipness, show their lighter sides and occasionally declare their candidacies for major office.
In that vein, "Stephen Colbert" Tuesday night declared his candidacy for president of the United States.
"I have heard the call," Colbert said. "Nation, I shall seek the office of the president of the United States."
You may not be surprised that Colbert has a new book out to sell, "I Am America (And So Can You!)" That coincidental product placement puts him in the same category as other president flirts such as Colin Powell and Al Gore.
But to his credit, or discredit, Colbert is taking his plug-man-ship even further. Both Colberts' real and fictitious personas having been raised in South Carolina, Colbert's minions have already pursued the proper paperwork for him to try to run in both the Democratic and Republican presidency primaries in January 2008.
"I am from South Carolina and I am for South Carolina and I defy any other candidate to pander more to the people of South Carolina, those beautiful, beautiful people," he said on "The Colbert Report."
In South Carolina today, presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a staple on "Comedy Central," responded to Colbert's announcement.
"Hope he joins us for the debates. He can make them livelier and he can reach a wider audience than that narrow little sliver that watches his show," McCain told ABC News.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for whom South Carolina is a crucial state, responded to ABC News in California.
"Where's he exactly from in South Carolina?" Obama asked, smiling. "I don't get much of an accent. If he's from South Carolina, he wasn't really down-home South Carolina — that's my impression. I can't picture Stephen eating grits, but who knows?"
Colbert is not the first to blur these lines, though he may be the most successful.
"Laugh-In" comedian Pat Paulsen ran for president as a gag in 1968 and then kept running and running. Only his death in 1997 ended his perennial campaigning. As for the modern era, Arnold Schwarzenegger declared his candidacy for governor in 2003 on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina announced he was running for president on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and just a few weeks ago, Leno's stage was again graced with a candidate announcement — this time former Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee declaring his intention to run for president.
"Stephen Colbert" most prominently dived in the political arena during his notable speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner where his character, an admirer of the president, spoofed the president and the press corps.
"Guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls," "Colbert," said. "We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in reality, and reality has a well-known liberal bias."
It was a speech that Frank Rich from The New York Times deemed a defining moment of the 2006 midterm elections because it mocked not only the president but "the very news media that had parroted Bush administration fictions leading America into the quagmire of Iraq."
We do not know what Colbert's platform would be. Presumably anti-bear in some way as viewers of his show know that he hates bears.
Colbert also seems to oppose government regulations.
"According to a recent report, doctors are writing some 65 million prescriptions every year from drugs that are not FDA-approved. Big whoop-ti-do," Colbert said on his show. "Your body has its own regulatory agency, folks. When you ingest chemicals that are bad for you, your body alerts you by dying."
The Republican White House hopefuls have been debating who among them is a "real Republican." That's a debate where Colbert can definitely distinguish himself from the rest — he is totally unquestionably fake.
Avery Miller, Brett Hovell and Herran Bekele contributed to this report.