Calmly facing death: Sendak v. Colbert, Act 3 – a sweet post-mortem
R.I.P. Maurice Sendak, brilliant children’s author and dry wit (1928–2012). He died yesterday of a stroke.
In a crossing of the stars, that May 8 was also the publication date of the satirical children’s book Stephen Colbert dreamed up for his interview with Sendak back in January.
In last night’s show, Colbert included more of the interview, to honor Sendak’s memory.
Act 3 (15 min. in)
Colbert: Today is the release date of my beloved children's
classic, I am a Pole (And So Can You!)
It's the heartwarming coming-of-age story
of a pole searching for its place in the world.
It's the perfect gift for mother's day, father's day,
graduation day... and all other days.
And you know it's a good book because of this blurb:
"THE SAD THING IS, I LIKE IT" - Maurice Sendak.
Well, the real sad thing is Mr. Sendak died this morning,
at age 83. I had the pleasure of interviewing him
earlier this year, and tonight we'd like to show you
just a few more things that Maurice had to say.
Colbert: Mr Sendak, thanks for sitting down with me today.
This is a, this is a real honor.
Sendak: No shit!
Colbert: No, I'm not shitting you. I mean it.
Now what's your favorite of your own books?
I really wished you'd ask that question.
Well I'm glad I did then.
I think the best is two books I've done.
I can have two favorites.
One is called 'outside over there'
It is my attempt to do a Mozartian book,
to take elements --
It's terrifying! these goblins that make
ice babies... and replace a child with it!
Yes... what can I say. those were all --
I was really deeply in love with romantic art
of the beginning of the 18th century,
middle of the 18th century.
Mozart was dead, and this beautiful /thing/
came out of his generation
and Mozart of course being the best quality,
the best artist, the best everything that ever --
Mozart is the highest quality.
He's like the Donald Trump of classical music.
Only the finest...
I'm gonna have to... I'm gonna have to kill you.
I'm gonna have to kill you!
Donald is quality. You've seen,
Everything he does is gold plated. That's quality.
Yes, yes, he's just like Donald Trump.
Everything is primo. Primo.
You got it, you nailed him.
The other... is called 'Higgelty Piggelty Pop!'
It's probably the best thing I've done.
Tell me the story.
It's about a sealyham terrier.
My sealyham terrier. The dog i had.
Her name was Jennie,
and she appeared in all my books,
up until the time she died.
And higgelty piggelty pop! was the big book
I wrote about her
because I knew she was going to die, soon.
She was getting old.
What happens in it?
What happens is
the little dog goes out into the world
and leaves her master
to find out, "is there more to life?"
and the series of adventures that she has
where she proves her total inadequacy
to almost everything that happens to her.
And - but she accepts that.
and that is the truth of her life
that she must accept her inadequacy
and her failure to live up to expectations
that others may have of her,
that she surely has of her.
And she just ends up a sweet, jerky dog
which she is, noone ever really wanted
anything more from her, so...
Does she return to him?
No. She dies. She dies.
And she leaves him a letter, saying
"If you ever come this way, look me up.
But I can't tell you how to get here."
The book has had a very difficult life. All of it.
Considered like, "why is this a children's book?"
Why not! What is a children's book?
I don't have a clue!
I'm famous for them, I write them,
I illustrate them, but I don't know what they are
I don't know why they're for children.
I like that your work does not sugargcoat childhood.
You bring the pain. You keep it real.
But some people think that is not
appropriate for children -
To suffer pain, read about it, think about it,
feel about it. Yet that's all they do.
Every moment of childhood is a sense of uncertainty
Yes. I think childhood is a period of great torment.
We learn all these things about what is, what isn't
what you can do, what you cannot do.
It's hard. It is very hard.
What's the best thig a parent can do for a child?
Love him, her.
But what's that mean?
Take them for what they are.
Saying thank you with pancakes:
Celebrity Deathmatch: Sendak v. Colbert, Part 2
See also Part 1 and Part 3.
Colbert: What do you think of the current state
of children's lit?
Colbert: There's so much of it though!
Sendak: That's what makes it abysmal.
Let's talk about some of your competition.
Give me your reviews.
Green Eggs and Ham?
Good. Green Eggs And Ham, "Good".
Everything by Seuss is good.
Give A Mouse A Cookie.
I'm with you on that one. Cause,
you shouldn't give a mouse a cookie,
Mouse should *earn* the cookie.
You should open the door and say
'get the hell out of my house!'
The mouse should be exterminated.
I'm with you on that one.
Curious George, ok.
I don't believe in monkeys in the house either.
You don't like it?
No, no. they throw their feces.
They do, they do throw--
Monkeys bite your jaw off, they will bite your face off
He wouldn't have done that.
No, no, but he could have at any moment.
So have I changed your mind on Curious George?
So you're in favor of children
getting their faces bitten off.
I'm in favor of --
ok, you- you've made it clear.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? you know that one?
Isn't that an adult novel?
That's kind of prejudiced of you, to say that a book
has to be adult, or a book has to be child.
Someone who's been so ghettoized in their work, would say
that a child couldn't read a book about murder
You trapped me! you trapped me!
Checkmate, sir. Check...
You're wrong, but you trapped me.
Am i? Am i?
Oh, so other people can be pigeon-holed, but
you can't do that to Maurice Sendak. That's a crime.
How about that!
Don't I deserve that?
Double-standard much, Mo?
Let's shift gears. Every celebrity is out there
cashing in on children's books.
And I want in.
What does it take for a celebrity to make
a successful book? What do I gotta do?
Well, you've started already by being... an idiot.
That is already the very first demand.
First is idiot.
How do you spell that?
After that, you know the formula.
You just need, like an animal, and...
something they've lost.
Well yes, I mean most books for children are very bad.
The Squirrel Lost Its Mittens.
There you go.
The Buffalo... Lost Its Gun.
You've just written two children's books!
I've got a story. can I read it to you!
(winces in pain)
Do you *really* have to?
It's called "I am a Pole, and So Can You!"
Ok, yes! I can't wait to hear it.
== [Colbert reads] ==
I AM A POLE AND SO CAN YOU
I am a pole, that much is clear to me.
But just what type of pole could I possibly be?
I tried to be a pole for vaulting,
but I couldn't seem to bend.
I would love to be a ski pole,
but for that I'd need a friend.
I wished I was the North Pole,
and marked the home of Santa,
Or even just a Gallup Poll calling voters in Atlanta.
I considered fireman's and fishing,
Was a totem for some time.
And even tried to be a stripper pole,
but I couldn't stand the grime.
But then one day, in my depths of despair,
Some scouts brought me Old Glory as something to wear.
And while she danced and she waved,
It became clear to me,
I am the best kind of pole you can possibly be.
I am an American Flag pole.
Now pledge allegiance, or else.
What do you think?
The sad thing is, I like it!
Can I get that as a blurb?
"The sad thing is I like it..."
The sad thing is I like it.
"... --Maurice Sendak."
That's a good blurb!
And all you need to do is get a popular illustrator
who has a horrible sene of design, no taste for type
nothing about the aesthetics for
what a picture book could look like,
and you will probably make a lot of money.
Will you teach me how to draw?
Well that is a lovely offer, I accept.
== Cut to Sendak's studio ==
So this is where you do all your work?
Yeah, I'm afraid so.
Well I'm trying to figure out how to draw a pole.
I'm not very good at drawing.
Let me draw a pole here...
You ever uh, sniff your marker?
No... is that good? a good thing?
It's a cheap high. be careful...
It does, it does!
Go ahead, go ahead.
I assume you were huffing these things
when you drew Where The Wild Things Are
"I remember Pearl Harbor...
ta da da da da da da... ya da da da, ya da da da,
Ya Da DA DA DA DA DA!"
See how great these markers are? no really.
That pulled the song right out of me,
right out of my nose!
I got a mountain, got some
and half a sun...
You drew a Polish woman with a pole!
Holding a pole
Pole with a pole. She could be a Polish stripper.
Any advice, any advice here?
No... just, I would leave it alone, because it has
a kind of delicacy, and irrationality, and, and...
terrible quality of -- ordinariness.
"Terribly ordinary!" - Maurice Sendak
That's another great blurb!
Well, Moishe... I think with my fantastic book idea,
my words, my drawings and your blurb,
I think we've got a hit here.
I've- I know we do.
Thank you, sir.
== Colbert recaps ==
Folks, once I get a publisher,
I AM A POLE (AND SO CAN YOU!)
will be available in bookstores everywhere!
In hardcover, paperback, maybe even in ebook.
what do you say about that, Maurice?
[Flashback to earlier interview]
Fuck them is what I say!
I hate those ebooks.
They *cannot* be the future.
They may well be, I will be dead, I won't give a shit!
Celebrity Deathmatch: Sendak v. Colbert, Part 1
Best Kid Lit Interview. Ever. And perhaps the best Colbert interview, too. Update: see also Part 2 and Part 3 of the interview.
Grim Colberty Tales w Maurice Sendak
Colbert: Mr. Sendak, thank you so much
for talking with me today.
Sendak: It's a pleasure.
Colbert: Now, tell me about children's literature.
Don't you think that by writing books for children,
you are sending children the message that reading is important?
Sendak: Very much so. yes.
Let's talk about kids. I don't trust 'em.
Is that true?
They are just biding their time until we're gone,
and then they get our stuff.
That's really good.
And they take our place.
Uh-huh, that's an interesting point of view...
...but not interesting to me, particularly.
There is something in this country that is so opposed
to understanding the complexity of children,
it's quite amazing.
What do you mean 'the copmlexity of children'?
because children have it easy, they get driven everyplace
we feed them, we dress them.
Newt Gingrich said it: children don't have a work ethic.
But Newt Gingrich is an idiot.
Of great renown, I'll give him that.
He's a historian, you know.
Yes but there is something
so hopelessly gross and vile about him,
that it's hard to take him seriously.
so let's not take him seriously.
well let's agree to disagree.
Why write for children?
I don't. write. for children.
No. I write. and somebody says, "that's for children!"
I didn't set out to make children happy,
or to make life better for them, or easier for them.
Do you like them?
I like them as few and far between as I do adults.
Maybe a bit more, since I really don't like adults,
at all, practically.
Let me just get that down.
Maurice Sendak: "Children: Eh."
Alright, didn't know that.
New topic: book signings.
Really? You must have groupies.
Yes, you do -- but they don't mean anything!
Hot young moms coming up to you? right?
Where the wild MILFs are?
That would not affect me because I am a gay man.
I said, "That would not affect me because I am a gay man."
I think, I'm sorry, I must be mishearing you,
I think you just said you were a gay man.
Ok... Why are you allowed to write children's books?
You aren't allowed to head boy scout troops.
I wouldn't dream of wanting to.
But... What does a gay man care about children?
They're people, they're people...
Gay men can't have children.
Of course they can!
No they can't. Do you know how it works?
Sir, excuse me. you are completely misguided
if you think that gay men--
You *can* do that!
I'm sure you've put some effort into it.
But it will not work, sir!
Let's go on to a new subject.
You've expressed frustration in the media sometimes that
all they ever want to talk about
is Where The Wild Things Are.
let's talk about Where The Wild Things Are.
(winces in pain)
Why not do a sequel to this? It's a natural.
Because it is the most boring idea imaginable!
"Where the Wild Things Are 2: Still Wildin'!...
featuring Vin Diesel"
Who's Vin Diesel?
Oh, he's incredible. Have you seen Fast and Furious?
or... Too Fast Too Furious?
I don't go to the movies.
We do this book, we get a tie in
with Burger King or Taco Bell,
it comes with a Where the Wild Things Are snack pack...
It is so bad, that it not only will sell,
it will make pots and pots of money for you.
Can I get the blessing of your estate?
(to the cameraman) You've got that on tape?
But it's got to be as bad as that looks like it is.
Well listen, let's let the public judge
whether it's bad, by whether they buy it.
Believe in the free market?
Ok, well I can't help you there.
By the way, in Where the Wild Things Are,
"the wild rumpus": is that... is that...
It can be!
Is rumpus... sex?
"the wild rumpus begin"?
Yes! the whole bed going up and down, yes
The mother screaming, the father saying "shut up"
You know -- making love.
Making love. And being happy.
Let's talk about In the Night Kitchen
for a second. can we?
This one gets banned all over the place. You know why.
He's got a dick.
He's got a tallywhacker, okay?
A tallywhacker? I never heard that.
Oh yeah, yeah. a johnson.
A johnson, you never hear of johnson?
(nods in recognition)
You've got kiddy schvantz in your book.
Why are you printing a smutty book?
Because... he's a boy.
Yeah, yeah. But you don't have to rub it in our face.
Why... Boys wear pants.
Not when they're dreaming...!
Have you never had a dream, yourself,
Where you were totally naked?
I think you're a man of little imagination.
Well I love the book, but I've just made
some adjustments to it. I - every copy I have,
I've removed all the penises from it.
Oh my god, you have!!
Yes, so you can see, there's nothing there.
I removed the penises,
I removed the butt crack over here, okay.
I've taken the penis out over here.
You don't have to worry about the penis offending
anybody. (wiggles finger through cut-out hole)
Not at all. Wow.
But I keep all the penises,
I cut them out and I put them in a little plastic bag.
I also cut out all the other penises I see
in the books and magazines.
I've got a couple hundred here.
(holds up bag of penis cut-outs)
And there's nothing wrong with you, of course.
I come across a lot of penises.
I am so impressed.
[Flashback to earlier interview]
It is a miracle that I have lived this long
without having destroyed a person.
I still have a little bit of time.
To kill someone?
To kill someone. Yeah.