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A Conversation with Stephen Colbert

S.A., 2L

There is certainly no shortage of events to attend at Yale Law School. From lunch time talks to dinner panels to speaker series, students receive dozens of emails a week about upcoming events. One of my goals during my three years here has been to attend as many of these events as possible. I may not have the time to research issues such as the evolution of marriage equality or Robert Bork’s influence on anti-trust law, but I will certainly take an hour out of my day to learn about them from top scholars in the field over free food.

The Dean of the Law School, Robert Post, emails the student body with a list of named lectures and events for the school year, offering students even more events to note on their calendars. A few weeks ago, he sent an updated version of this list with a very exciting and unusual addition: Stephen Colbert, of the popular and award-winning comedy show The Colbert Report. I had heard rumors that he may be coming to campus, but the email officially confirmed what ended up being my favorite event in my two and a half semesters at YLS so far.

The event was advertised as a conversation with Stephen Colbert and his attorney, Trevor Potter. The two spent over an hour and a half telling the story behind the Super PAC that Stephen Colbert created in 2011. As YLS’s own election law expert, Heather Gerken, has stated before, Stephen Colbert’s parody super PAC raised so much awareness about gaps in campaign finance laws that, “Stephen Colbert has singlehandedly done more for campaign finance reform than anyone in the 20th century except Richard Nixon.” It was truly an extraordinary experience to have an out of character Stephen Colbert walk us through how the idea came about and how he and Trevor Potter, a campaign finance expert who was former chair of the Federal Election Commission, navigated the legal obstacles involved, learning about disconcerting aspects of the American campaign financing system along the way.

As an extra cherry on top, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Potter attended a reception in the Dining Hall after the event. Students swarmed around Stephen Colbert hoping for a chance to thank him for coming and to take a photo. “Selfies” on camera phones were particularly popular, and a student or two even called a loved one to have Stephen Colbert say hello or wish them a happy birthday.

I left the event amused, informed, and grateful for the opportunity to hear from and interact with such a witty and influential figure in American politics.