Stephen Colbert is a superior father and he has the proof to back that up. “I have a mug that actually verifies that I’m the world’s best dad,” he told BuzzFeed. “That’s a mug. That’s not me talking. You can’t just buy those.”
The Colbert Report host took time to chat via phone while promoting his new DreamWorks animated comedy, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, in which he plays a less-than-perfect father named Paul Peterson. “It’s like Midnight in Paris, but for kids,” Colbert said of the film.
Outside of the realm of animation, the comedian has three children (ages 18, 15, and 12) with his wife Evelyn McGee. Below, Colbert talks about what it’s like to be a famous dad — the good, the bad, and the most hilarious moments.
3. Lesson 1: Cherish your 6-year-old.
“Every year has its own special thing, but there’s something about 6 years old,” Colbert said wistfully. “They’re just old enough that they can feed themselves, clean themselves, and they still really like you. That’s when they say, ‘All right, we’re going to take them and put them in school.’ And it’s like, ‘Ugh, we just got them all perfect!’”
5. Lesson 2: Do not expect your teenagers to like you.
“The 12-year-old still seems to like me,” he said of his youngest son. “That’s nice! I think all three of them like me, but I’ve got two teenagers, and a 12-year-old. He’s within months of being a teenager. Then it’s all over. Then my wife and I might as well live alone.”
7. Lesson 3: Laughter is the key to pretty much everything.
“I think one of the most startling moments was when my then 6-year-old daughter won an argument in the most wonderful way,” Colbert said. “Our third child had just been born, and my wife had just about had it. So I said, ‘Go out with friends and I’ll watch the kids for the night.’ … And five minutes later, all of them were crying, and I was yelling.
“And my daughter said, ‘Why are you yelling at us?’ and I said, ‘I’m trying to discipline you!’ And then she looked up at me with her tear-stained eyes and said, ‘This is how you teach children, by making them cry.’ And it was such a clenching reminder — she won not only the argument, but she won life with that statement. I just burst out laughing, and I think they were so surprised that I burst out laughing, that they did too.”
9. Lesson 4: When in doubt, turn the TV on.
“That’s my parenting style — ‘Go watch the TV,’” he laughed. “I’m one of 11 children, and my mother’s parenting style was ‘There’s the TV. Go watch it. Mommy’s got 10 other people to take care of.’
“The only thing that I don’t like is my kids watching comedy that isn’t actually funny. There’s a lot of supposed tween comedy on TV that isn’t particularly funny, but it’s got a lot of laugh track. And I go, ‘Please don’t watch that. Please just watch something that’s actually funny. I’ll let you watch it — you can stay up late — just watch something that’s actually funny!’ And they take me up on that.”
11. Lesson 5: Having conversations with your children is a wonderful thing. (And adding some wine helps.)
When asked what’s the best part of being a dad, Colbert said, “Conversations with your kids. Just having a conversation about what interests them, or them asking you about something that interests you. I mean, I remember when my daughter was first born, she was just a little lima bean. She was newborn, and we were rolling her around Chicago, and going, ‘That’s a tree! And that’s a dog!’ I just couldn’t wait till she could talk so we could have a conversation. And it really is the best part. You know, coming home, pouring yourself a glass of wine, and sitting there and having a conversation with your kid about how their day was. It’s not dramatic, it doesn’t seem exciting, but it’s probably the nicest part of it.”
13. Lesson 6: When faced with a serious discussion, always lighten the mood with a joke.
“There’s nothing too serious that I can’t make a joke out of it. There’s no crisis too crazy that I wouldn’t want to make a joke out of it. No, I get stopped from making the joke halfway through once members of my family realize I’m about to make a joke about something that’s very important to them. But I’m just trying to lighten the mood, folks!”
15. Lesson 7: You’ll probably do that thing you’d swore you’d never do as a parent, and that’s OK.
“I think I swore I’d never wait up late and go, ‘Where have you been?’ But I do it,” he admitted.
17. Lesson 8: Learn to love the hard parts of being a parent, because they’re some of the best parts.
“No one tells you anything about being a parent,” Colbert explained. “Here’s the thing, no matter what they tell you, they aren’t telling you anything, because you just can’t explain it, ya know? You just can’t explain what it’s like to be a parent until you are a parent. It’s like, poetry might get at it, but it’s such an experience, not an idea, that trying to explain it. … There’s no explaining it. I didn’t know what to expect. But I think the most surprising thing is that, while it’s hard — it’s hard — but even the hard parts are just beautiful. Because they’re hard, sometimes.”