I ruined Stephen Colbert's coffee

Behind the scenes at Comedy Central
By SEAN BARTLETT  |  September 28, 2006

WHOLE MILK: Why does Sean Bartlett hate America?
It’s 11:39 pm on June 26, and my cell phone is about to explode. In the last three minutes I’ve received ten text messages and six voicemails from friends and family, all regarding the same thing: Stephen Colbert has just threatened to fire me from my non-paying internship during tonight’s WORD, for carelessly putting whole milk in his coffee, and I’m officially the most famous person I know.

While most of my summers back home on Long Island have typically involved a menial job and three straight months of unmitigated self-loathing, this past year proved to be different. Instead of hosing partially digested cotton-candy out of rollercoaster cars at my local amusement park, I got coffee and ran errands for the man who stood mere feet from our President and claimed, with genius pseudo-empathy, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” I don’t think I have to tell you that’s a marked improvement.

As a Colbert Report intern, my first day begins at 10 am when I arrive at the show’s 54th street studio in Manhattan. To be honest, I’m a little queasy as I walk through the front door, hoping that I’ll be able to maintain at least the illusion of professionalism in my first taste of the “real world.” I mean, this is the big time, a true bastion of modern comedy with a Daily Show pedigree, and I should check my adolescent sense of humor at the door.

My supervisor hands me a folder with a contact list, a subway map, and a packet entitled "Welcome to the Neighborhood: your guide to Hell’s Kitchen." It lists everything from Supermarkets to Starbucks in the surrounding area, and even mentions a massage parlor on Ninth Avenue called “Rub-A-Dub.” It’s described in the “Stephen Recommends!” section with a one-line review from the fearless leader himself. It reads, “Not a stroke joint!” I think I’ll fit in here just fine.

My duties on an average day at the Report were mostly what you’d expect from a sub-entry level position in television production. I stocked fridges, refilled water coolers, got coffee (it’s a triple-shot latte to answer your question), and numerous other humbling assignments that, had I been employed anywhere else, I’d probably come to loathe.

But there were, of course, those exceptional days that reminded my fellow interns and me what truly set this experience apart from the usual nine-to-five fare. Whether it being asked to pick up a large mailbox from a prop house in the middle of Harlem, or being sent down to Christopher Street to locate and acquire 100 miniature rainbow flags for the audience, you learned fast to ignore self-consciousness and expect the unexpected.

Personally, my favorite task was to retrieve a six-foot gnarled staff and a wizard’s hat from a costume shop downtown. I hate riding the subway enough to begin with, let alone looking like I’m on my way to the nearest comic-con, but I had to laugh when a particularly chipper urban youth shouts at me, “That’s a hot staff son.” I guess even gang-bangers have a soft spot for the Lord of the Rings.

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