On Thursday night, Stephen Colbert gave the keynote address at the 68th annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York City, a Catholic black-tie charity dinner best known for the jokes and barbs traded by presidential candidates every four years. Previous Al Smith Dinner keynote speakers include not just presidents and presidential candidates but also British prime ministers, generals, top journalists, and titans of business.
Colbert, one of the few professional comedians tapped for the big speech — Bob Newhart spoke in 1999 and 1970, and Danny Thomas gave the address in 1978 — was quite a draw. This year's $1,500-a-plate dinner raised $3 million for needy children, the biggest haul for a year without a president giving the speech.
Rocco Palma at Whispers in the Loggia has the full audio of Colbert's 14-minute roast:
But here are some of Colbert's standout jokes:
On Cardinal Timothy Dolan, New York's archbishop and host of the dinner:
"I am proud to be America's most famous Catholic. And I'm sure the cardinal is thinking, 'Stephen, pride is a sin.' Well, cardinal, so is envy, so we're even."
"I have great respect for Cardinal Dolan, though I do have to say, sir, it is not easy when you are wearing that outfit. In that cape and red sash, you look like a matador who's really let himself go. Did you not see the invite? It said white-tie, not 'Flamboyant Zorro.'"
"Earlier this year, the cardinal came this close to being selected pope. But he blew it in the swimsuit competition. I would have gone with the one-piece.... Instead, he was first runner-up — and that means, of course, if Pope Francis tests positive for steroids, Dolan's in."
On Pope Francis:
"If Pope Francis were throwing tonight's party, we wouldn't be in white-tie at the Waldorf — we'd be in sweat pants crammed in the corner booth of the IHOP splitting a Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity."
"His Humbleness would be out washing the feet of the coat-check guy or something. We get it, you're modest."
On Wall Street:
"It's like we all showed up at the same Halloween party dressed as the Monopoly guy. And you know that's kind of fitting because the Wall Street guys evidently have a get-out-of-jail-free card."
"Did you enjoy your meal?... I should mention that, due to the recent government shutdown, none of the food tonight was inspected. In fact, that salmon appetizer wasn't actually smoked — it just swam too close to a Koch brothers factory."
"Speaking of potatoes, Chris Matthews is here.... Everybody knows Chris is host of Hardball. I've got some good news, Chris: It turns out that having hardball is now covered by ObamaCare."
Al Smith was "the first presidential candidate of a major party who was Catholic. And since he shattered the stained-glass ceiling, America has seen a flood of Catholic presidents, from John F. Kennedy to JFK to good ol' Jack Kennedy."
On Mayor Michael Bloomberg:
"Tonight is really about the littlest among us. Speaking of which, is Mayor Bloomberg here? Mayor Bloomberg, could you stand on your chair or something?... Tiny, tiny man. The real reason he doesn't want to drink cups larger than 16 ounces is because he's afraid he might drown in one."
On Christine Quinn, NYC Council speaker and unsuccessful mayoral candidate:
"Future mayor of New York City Christine Quinn is with us tonight — I'm sorry, I wrote that a long time ago.... I thought she was a shoo-in. I really did. I mean, New York City is the only place in the world where the lesbian candidate was too conservative."
Colbert's selection wasn't entirely by chance. The Comedy Central host and Cardinal Dolan have a burgeoning rapport, which The New York Times's Michael M. Grynbaum calls "the most prominent friendship in Catholicism today." They had a spirited debate at Fordham University last year, and Dolan came on The Colbert Report last month
If the above wasn't enough Colbert and Catholicism, here's Part 1 of that interview:
And Part 2:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Yes, Republicans can impeach President Obama
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Why Texas' abortion rates aren't falling as quickly as everyone expected
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex
- The 5 best and worst states for a well-lived life
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- 7 ideas from ancient thinkers that will improve your modern life
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The science behind Captain America's shield, The Hulk's anger, and more
Subscribe to the Week