It’s good to be the King. Appearing on Monday’s first post-Olympics hiatus Late Show, avuncular Maine horror legend and adaptation-magnet Stephen King spent a few segments engaging in some of his favorite pastimes, chatting about his own voluminous works and airily running down a real-world murderous villain in Florida Governor and COVID double agent Ron DeSantis. “He’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier,” was the Master of Horror’s initial assessment of the one-man Republican disease vector, noting that King’s part-time Florida residency has allowed him the opportunity to see just how much damage a half-bright “the individual rules and the hell with what happens” governor can do.
Citing the right-wing DeSantis’ “deer in the headlights” affect at the best of times, King continued his Twitter campaign to literarily tear Florida’s governor a new one in front of Colbert’s returned (for now at least) live audience. With Colbert embellishing the noted author’s deer comparison (by suggesting DeSantis’ laissez-faire stance on the deadly, mutating virus currently decimating his state perhaps hoping for a pair of motorcycles rather than a grill-smashing semi), King piled on by noting how DeSantis’ decisions have also seen Floridians wearing protective masks for a whole other reason. (There’s this leaky containment pond that DeSantis chose to vent directly into Tampa Bay, where the polluted waters’ resultant red tide bloom killed off much of the surrounding—and subsequently pungent—sea life.)
So that’s evil, but is it Stephen King evil? Not according to King, who greeted Colbert’s pitch for a future fictional Florida governor villain with the dismissive shrug of a guy who knows what makes a truly compelling antagonist. After all, your best Stephen King monsters (your Greg Stillsons, your Randall Flaggs) couple their nefarious machinations with a complexity of thought and more than a little charisma, whereas, in King’s authorial estimation, Florida is currently being led by a garden variety venal, callous dope, whose threadbare conservative posturing couldn’t sustain even the shortest tale of terror.
And, since Stephen King loves talking about his work perhaps even more than writing it, he happily acquiesced to Colbert’s call to pick out his own top five pieces of fiction. Since you don’t get to be a monumentally successful author without, as King put it, having to “shake your ass a little bit,” Maine’s horror maven did put his latest novel, the pandemic-adjacent crime thriller Billy Summers, on the list. Notable other inclusions see such luridly compelling characters as Annie Wilkes, Flagg, and that dope-smuggling doctor who gradually eats his own body, piece by piece. King’s roster suggests that it’s not enough to just be evil—a truly memorable asshole really has to have a (metaphorical) hook. Still, give DeSantis credit for trying, as—just to pick one recent example—imperiously forbidding school districts from enacting common sense pandemic safety measures right as millions of vulnerable children are about to be packed back into overcrowded classrooms seems almost baroquely stupid and cruel enough for a novella, at least. Maybe if he had a hook hand.