NEW YORK (AP) -- After nine years, Stephen Colbert is leaving the Comedy Central satirical-news "The Colbert Report" show, retiring the mythical character who served as host -- a pompous, conservative scold also known as Stephen Colbert.
The last episode of "The Colbert Report" airs Thursday at 11:30 p.m. EST (0430 GMT). His next step: playing himself as the new host of CBS' "Late Show" replacing David Letterman, who exits next May.
"The Colbert Report" (both t's are silent) premiered in October 2005 as a spoof of the show hosted by Fox News Channel personality Bill O'Reilly. But the Colbert character developed into a shrewdly satirical observer, preaching the opposite of what real-life Stephen Colbert meant to say. For this nightly display of Opposite Day, Colbert won a devoted audience of so-called "heroes," plus critical acclaim and two Peabody Awards, which noted that "what started as a parody of punditry is now its own political platform."
An actor, comedian and improv virtuoso, Colbert had created his Stephen Colbert alter ego in 1997 as a "senior correspondent" for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," where he addressed such topics as national security: Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, he instructed anchorman Stewart on the difference between "High Alert" (he came to his feet and began scanning the horizon) and "Higher Alert" (for which he rose on his tippy-toes).
"My character is self-important, poorly informed, well-intentioned but an idiot," Colbert explained on the eve of his eponymous "Report's" debut. "So we said, 'Let's give him a promotion.'"
During his glorious run as the potentate of Colbert Nation, he not only exposed the failings and fumblings of government, society and the media. He also got directly involved in these issues.
He formed a Super PAC, an organization that is barred from making direct contributions to political campaigns but is allowed to spend unlimited funds to support candidates or legislation independently. Colbert's Super PAC, "Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow," solicited donations as a demonstration of how money distorts the electoral process.
In 2007, he announced he would be running for president -- but only in his native state, South Carolina, whose Democratic Party voted to keep his name off the ballot. With Stewart, he in 2010 staged a "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" as a live TV extravaganza that drew tens of thousands to Washington's National Mall.
Along with his commentaries, Colbert had one of TV's broadcast spectrum of guests, ranging from entertainers to intellectuals to the power elite.
Last week, he welcomed President Barack Obama, to whom he posed this question: "Stephen Colbert -- great pundit, or the greatest pundit?"
"The greatest pundit," Obama replied.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore