NEW YORK (AP) -- Stephen Colbert looked out upon a sold out house, flashed his familiar comic grin, and then began the serious (and funny) business he was there for.
Reading a story by Flannery O'Connor.
The former Comedy Central host and heir apparent to David Letterman on "The Late Show" was among two guests Wednesday night for the celebrated "Selected Shorts" program at Manhattan's Symphony Space. Established 30 years ago, Selected Shorts has featured such well known readers as Meryl Streep and Jane Fonda reading notable works of literature.
O'Connor was Wednesday night's honored author and Colbert, like O'Connor a Catholic from the American South, chose "The Enduring Chill." He was preceded by stage and film actress Jill Eikenberry, who performed another O'Connor favorite, "Everything That Rises Must Converge."
O'Connor, who died 1964, was a Georgia native known for her sharp social commentary and deep Catholic faith. "The Enduring Chill" tells of an ailing young man with artistic aspirations who returns home in despair from New York to his family's farm and his narrow-minded, smothering mother. O'Connor, who lived briefly in New York as a young woman, suffered from lupus for much of her adult life and died at age 39.
Clearly at home with the humor and pathos of O'Connor's story, Colbert at times sounded as if he were reading an especially juicy bit of satire in his old job, like when the son happily observes that his illness might mean his mother, "at the age sixty, was going to be introduced to reality." Colbert read for nearly an hour and received loud applause upon completion. He also looked more like a literary figure than a comedian, wearing a blazer and slacks and no tie and the white beard he has favored lately.
Colbert did not make any comments and declined requests for an interview. The director of literary programs at Symphony Space, Katherine Minton, noted that Colbert has read stories at Symphony Space by T. Coraghessan Boyle and Ray Bradbury. When the O'Connor program was being put together, she thought that because he was from the same region as O'Connor (South Carolina) he "might feel a connection to Flannery O'Connor's work."
"I asked him and he said yes right away, and told me that he'd like to read 'The Enduring Chill,'" she said.