During the interview, Stephen opened up about the death of his dad and brothers, and his realizations about how it changed his life.
Stephen lost his dad and brothers Paul and Peter in a 1974 plane crash when he was only 10. After the tragedy, Stephen's family dynamic changed. He said, "I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died.... and it was just me and Mom for a long time. And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not (bitter). Broken, yes. Bitter, no."
[Credit: Sebastian Kim/GQ]
Colbert didn't come to terms with the tragedy until he was 35, when he reached an epiphany. "[It] stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I'm grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true. It's not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can't change everything about the world. You certainly can't change things that have already happened.”
"It would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn't mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head," he added.
He continued, "It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering. You gotta learn to love the bomb. Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that's why. Maybe, I don't know. That might be why you don't see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It's that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”
Though he didn't get to spend time with his dad and siblings, he still credits them for helping him build a strong relationship with religion. “It's so… lovely. I'm very grateful to be alive, even though I know a lot of dead people. And so that act, that impulse to be grateful, wants an object. That object I call God. Now, that could be many things. I was raised in a Catholic tradition. I'll start there. That's my context for my existence, is that I am here to know God, love God, serve God, that we might be happy with each other in this world and with Him in the next—the catechism. That makes a lot of sense to me. I got that from my mom. And my dad. And my siblings.”
For the rest of Stephen Colbert's interview, read GQ's September issue!