Seth Shostak gets the Colbert treatment

By Phil Plait | May 21, 2009 12:30 pm

Last night, my Close Personal Friend Seth Shostak was on the Colbert Report! I think he did a good job, too. See for yourself:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Seth Shostak
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Gay Marriage

[Edited to add: a Spanish translation is available, too. Thanks to mi amiga Lourdes Cahuich for that link.]

Colbert is amazing; that little speech about the size and age of the Universe rocked. Seth comported himself well, too, but I knew he would. Seth’s a funny guy, and quick on his feet. That’s perfect for Colbert’s show. If you ever get a chance to see a talk by Seth, grab it. He’s great.

And hmmmm… Seth’s book was on the show. I got an advance copy a few months ago and was asked to write a blurb for it (you know, the quotes on the back cover that say things like, "This is the greatest book in the world, and I’m not just saying that so I can see my name on a blurb on the back of a book."). I wrote a brilliant blurb (natch) but for some reason the publisher didn’t put any blurbs on the back cover! So, once again, we see my attempts to be on Colbert’s show in any way have been thwarted.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Humor, TV/Movies

Comments (47)

  1. Tim G

    Phil, maybe Seth can now get you tickets to the show!

  2. Why don’t you start a campaign, like Colbert himself has, to get all your minions to request they ask you on as a guest? It’s the perfect entree to the Colbert Nation – pull a stunt just like the ones he pulls to get attention.

    You could even make a little video challenging Colbert to a battle of wits or something. You have this fancy blog with all its readership – put them to use. It’s the American way to exploit your audience for personal gain. :-)

  3. You would think that “Death From The Skies!” would be ideal for Colbert.

  4. Nevy

    Wonderful interview. It’s always great to hear Seth speak.

    Perhaps Colbert’s worried you’ll outwit him, Phil.

  5. Phil, with the battle raging on yesterday’s Seth Shostak post comments over the merits of SETI as a worthwhile scientific venture, would you care to comment on where you stand on the issue?

  6. !astralProjectile

    Let the campaign begin:

    “Mr. Colbert, we vote you rename your show the “Colbert and Platt Report.”

    That’ll shake him.

  7. Vern

    Thoroughly enjoyable interview.

    I got the impression Colbert was in reality so fascinated by the subject that he was a little out of character compared to some of the other scientists I’ve seen interviewed.

  8. @!astralProjectile

    “Mr. Colbert, we vote you rename your show the “Colbert and Platt Report.”

    Why are we trying to get Oliver Platt on the show? 😛

  9. Yeah, Phil. What aren’t you telling us about astronomy that the above site is?

  10. What’s up with his hair? Did he comb it or something yesterday? That’s not the Seth I know :)

  11. creationist astronomy?

    Having watched a few minutes of the sample videos, the presenter uses one argument over and over again:

    1) Astronomers propose a theory about the evolution of the solar system
    2) A batch of science data obtained via telescopes and space missions doesn’t fit the theory
    3) Therefore evolution is wrong
    4) Therefore Goddidit!


    And when you see quotes about planetary evolution from 1992 (ancient history in this field), you know the person using them isn’t interested in giving an honest presentation of the facts.

  12. Jules

    Here is the link for us Canuckastanis

    However, my script blocker will not allow me to watch the thing :(

  13. Davidlpf

    Now you need you to do an impression of Kirk yelling “KHANN!!”
    but instead “COLBERT!!”.

  14. 15. Davidlpf Says:
    Now you need you to do an impression of Kirk yelling “KHANN!!”
    but instead “COLBERT!!”.

    Imagine SC screaming “PLAIT!!!” (Must be 3 exclamation points)


  15. Bob from Easton

    I’ve been at the Colbert Report 3 times. It’s in the old Daily Show studio. The first time we were in the front row. The warm up guy was doing a humorous Q&A thing and asked me if I was multicultural. I answered I was multi whatever. He said “Oooohh very snarky… you may touch the desk.” So I got to go up and touch his desk. Well actually I hugged it.

  16. Jules

    @dan2 Thank you!!!

  17. Davidlpf

    So Bob you acheived by accident what Phil can no do on purpose.

  18. ccpetersen

    Phil, when I do my Colbert Report appearance, I’ll put in a good word for ya. 😉

  19. Davidlpf

    sorry suppose to be “what Phil can not do on purpose”.

  20. Savino

    Kinda annoying this Colbert…trying to get at all cost more attention than Seth? Terrible interviewer!

  21. Kat

    “Sometimes things with arms and legs don’t think either.”

    So he has met a creationist.

  22. GGremlin

    They are rebooting “Dead like me.” Episode 1 titled “Colbert, Death from the Skies!” 😉

  23. Miranda

    Savino, that’s just his “schtick” … he’s actually pretty brilliant (case in point, watch his speech at the 2006 white house press orrespondent’s dinner).

    Vern …. I got the exact same impression! I rarely see him so enthused towards his interviewee. It was kind of cute :)

  24. Chris A.

    The Colbert treatment is one thing, but will Seth get the Colbert bump? Will it translate to the detection of an alien signal? (We’d never hear the end of it from Colbert.)

  25. Austin L

    When I first bought a copy of Seth’s book from Barnes and Noble, it was being stocked in the “New Age” section at the (imho incorrect) recommendation of the publisher.

  26. MadScientist

    Speaking of Colbert – has the new toilet on the ISS been named after him yet?

  27. Ducost

    “Speaking of Colbert – has the new toilet on the ISS been named after him yet?”

    They named the treadmill after him.

  28. The Colbert treatment is one thing, but will Seth get the Colbert bump? Will it translate to the detection of an alien signal? (We’d never hear the end of it from Colbert.)

    I can live with that :-)

  29. 30. MadScientist Says:
    Speaking of Colbert – has the new toilet on the ISS been named after him yet?

    Nope, a treadmill….
    “The Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistive Treadmill, the COLBERT.”

    Apparently, he/it is ready to go: link


    wow… editing!

  30. bassmanpete

    Maybe I’ve watched too many Parkinson shows, but I prefer an interviewer to ask questions and then let the interviewee answer them! I’d rather listen to what Seth has to say than to Colbert showing how clever & funny he is. It was very disappointing.

  31. That’s the nature of the show, bassmanpete. Hopefully Shostak will be on something like Charlie Rose at some point (not that Rose is that good at letting his guests talk, at times).

    Colbert is first and foremost a comedy show, and with an interview being only about 5 minutes long anyway, there really is no time to go into any depth, even if he reined in the jokes and one-liners.

  32. bassmanpete

    Thanks Tacitus. Being in Australia I’m only familiar with Colbert from the mentions he gets on blogs like this one. Obviously then, Seth was only on the show to promote his book and didn’t expect to get to say anything meaningful!

  33. Tim G

    Kudos to Colbert for having some perspective on the Universe. He even correctly cited the spectral class of the sun.

  34. Winter Solstice Man

    Phil, you need to stop asking to be on Colbert’s show so much.

    Only then will you get to be on it.

    Any good Buddhist will tell you that when you stop desiring something, then you will receive that which you desired.

    The Cosmos just works that way – probably something at the quantum level.

  35. Wait ‘WinterSolsticeMan’ – does that mean that once I no longer desire my wife to be both slavish and insatiable – that only then will it come to pass?

    I’m skeptical.

  36. Nevy

    WinterSolsticeMan, that seems to be the opposite of the (dubious) Law of Attraction which also seems to base some of its arguements on quantum mechanics.
    But yeah Phil, maybe if you just ignore Colbert, he’ll ask you.

  37. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    It’s always fun to see astronomy and cosmology, and this was fun too!

    The only thing that Shostak said that didn’t ring true was in the end, when he assumed that AIs don’t need to be “embodified” to nick from Phil’s cromulent expression. There is AFAIU reasons to believe that the only intelligences we know of, biological, emerges from the whole system. For example, to be able to control walk, and understand walking, you need to have legs, etcetera.

    Even the first neuron-nets that showed spontaneous symbolic thinking (I believe I linked to them a few days ago) were modeled on, and dependent on, the hardware of the cortex.

    Now I’m pretty sure that you can achieve the similar function by simulating most or all of the hardware. For example, develop walking in truthful 3D world simulations. Or possibly by migrating the hardware dependent parts of the system into software. (Ideally, it learns itself how to do that.) But it will take some doing to get there, and it isn’t demonstrated as opposed to intelligence itself.

  38. actuator

    I missed Colbert, but found Shostak’s book to be a good read. My question is that in the range he gave of 10K to 100K potential locations for intelligience in the galaxy what’s the liklihood that any are sufficiently contemporary that we could possibly communicate with them? In an umpteen billion year old galaxy will a signal we get from 5 or 10 thousand years ago be relevant. “Death From the Skies” implies we’re not the only ones that are likely to go extinct at any time. Physics seems to preclude a realistic way to do it. It’ll take a lot of patience and it’s hard to be that patient with the life spans we have.

  39. Bob From Easton:
    You merely hugged the desk??? I would have at the very least licked it!

    I’ve seen many interviews with Dr. Shostak, and he is an amazingly brilliant guy, with an great sense of humor!

    BTW, did you all know that Phil apparently wrote a book? It’s got a pretty picture of the Sun on the cover. I finally got around to ordering mine from the local bookstore yesterday! Should be in my grubby little paws early next week!

    Phil, is there any way to upload the video clips like this so that those in Canada can watch without having to sign into the Canadian Comedy Network website?

  40. People with slow connections say “BOOOOO!” to video players that don’t buffer while paused.

  41. ND

    With all do respect to Dr. Plait, Stephen Colbert ++.

  42. Commander Koenig

    Great interview. Seth Rocks!


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