Making a pilgrimage to Washington DC to visit the Nation.

Story by Alice Hunt, Illustration by Meg Hunt

illustration by Meg Hunt

I’m in DC’s National Portrait Gallery with a friend, on an unreasonably cheery February morning, standing at the back of a queue for what must be the city’s best-trafficked restrooms. They’re nice bathrooms, to be sure, but the real draw is the portrait of Stephen Colbert hanging just above the water fountains. It’s not a great portrait (digital on canvas, 2006), but we huddled masses flock to it anyway, because it is a holy relic and we are proud citizens of Colbert Nation. The tide of it-getters ebbs and flows, but the crowd is ebullient whatever its size.

I feel connected to my fellow Colbert Nation citizens. If nothing else, we’ve all annoyed the woman at the information desk who’s clearly sick of pointing people to the portrait, so we’ve shared that special experience. We are strong! We are Americans – the good kind, the kind that’s well-informed, well-connected, and somewhat obnoxious about it! We are a group, we are a movement, and even if we don’t love each other right now, we probably could if we tried.

But it’s not all sweetness and light. Every nation has its undesirables, and the Colbert Nation is no exception. Another friend who attended a taping (while seven months pregnant, earning her a front-row seat and a quick chat with Stephen) waited to get in for hours behind an unsettling young woman wearing a “Mrs. Colbert” sash and a homemade homage-to-Stephen T-shirt. According to my friend, this taping was the end of an era for her: she had been to see the show once a week since its inception, but after that night’s performance she was banned from the set for six months so that other, ideally less creepy people could see the show.

I envy the freaky Colbert people. They enjoy their pastime to a lunatic degree. They live and breathe strange fan art where Stephen is a Japanese schoolgirl and Paul Dinello is his strict yet alluring senpai. I cannot say the same. Yes, I dig him, and have for years. Yes, I’ve been to a pair of tapings and I’ve got the poster of his portrait. And yes, I no longer watch The Daily Show because it just doesn’t seem funny anymore without him. But something is holding me back from throwing myself fully into the Nation, becoming one with my fellow fans, maybe joining up with something larger instead of soaking in the radiation from my TV and the buzz in front of a Smithsonian bathroom.

Alice Hunt is a writer in Killadelphia and is a geek for British comedies because they are not Yu-Gi-Oh.

Meg Hunt is an illustrator outside of Phoenix and is a geek for adventure games because they make her brain feel happy.