The first book by Stephen Colbert and the staff of The Colbert Report, 2007’s I Am America (And So Can You!), was a distilled form of the Comedy Central show, geared at satirizing books by other prominent political pundits like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. It contained margin notes in the style of the Report segment “The Word,” and followed a general timeline of the Colbert’s character’s life. It was so successful that Colbert even adapted the concept with a parody of money-grabbing, celebrity-written children’s books, I Am A Pole (And So Can You!).
America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t is more of a coffee-table book, with large color pictures, and chapter photos that require the use of included 3-D glasses. It falls somewhere between I Am America and the Daily Show faux-textbooks America (The Book) and Earth (The Book), which used that organizing principle to their advantage. The premise follows the many apocalyptic views of the past four years, claiming America has gone off the rails and completely lost its way, and that only this book offers the true path to restore America’s greatness. Which was never really gone, because it’s America.
The best idea America Again mocks is the one contained in its title. In particular, it skewers Newt Gingrich’s 2011 book A Nation Like No Other, which claimed, “America’s exceptional greatness is not based on that fact that we are the most powerful, most prosperous—and most generous—nation on earth. Rather, those things are the result of American Exceptionalism.” That is one preposterously arrogant whopper, which America Again exploits as an illogical chicken/egg position. The subtle difference between a beneficial amount of pride and the unchecked belief in exceptionalism is ripe for mockery.
Stephen Colbert has been playing Stephen T. Colbert since 2005. In those seven years, he’s built an impressive mythology to his character, a funhouse mirror held up to shame all other egomaniacal pundits for their hubris. But while the shtick is still reliably funny on television, it doesn’t translate as well into print, because a book doesn’t have television’s immediacy. There’s no Super PAC plotline, just a bunch of chapters that respond to issues a bit too late. Colbert and his staff are still extraordinarily funny, but in reaching for a middle-of-the-road coffee table humor book, America Again finds the limits of their comedic talent.