Stephen Colbert Vs Maurice Sendak, or Vice Versa

Once again, I tripped over an episode of mock conservative Stephen Cobert’s show, and low and behold, he’s interviewing the famous children’s writer and illustrator–Maurice Sendak. If you’ve not seen Colbert–think of a fake sincere smart aleck whose comebacks are fast and furious, and usually hilarious. I find it hard to believe in this day of TV internet, iphones etc, that Sendak doesn’t know Colbert’s shtick, but, I honestly think he believed Colbert’s questions were for real. He certainly responded as if so, and he responded as an old curmudgeonly man, who doesn’t really warm the cudgels of adults hearts, let alone children’s. As a matter of fact. Sendak pretty much admitted he has no interest in kids whatsoever–but neither does he crave adult companionship. He also made a surprise statement–at least to me–that he doesn’t write ‘books for children’ but just writes books, and the implication was that others tagged them as kids books.

Colbert pointed out how it seems as though every interviewer asks questions about Where The Wild Things Are.  After Sendak groaned and said yes, that was true, Colbert went on–“So, tell me about Where the Wild Things Are.” And Sendak just didn’t get it–the joke. Colbert alluded to a section where he claimed the wild things were having sex, and Sendak agreed wholeheartedly, describing what he was implying in the text. I must say I was kind of jolted here. I hadn’t put sex together with the book, but maybe I was missing major story-lines! The next point Colbert brought up, was the censorship of In The Night Kitchen, asking Sendak, why he thought so many places banned the book. Sendak knew exactly why–because the boy is nude and his private part drawn clearly within the illustrations, and that’s a no no. Colbert cut out all the private part areas, including behinds, and put them in  plastic bag, to save the children from having to gaze upon such depravity. Sendak wasn’t impressed, actually, I believe he thinks Colbert is a nut job, for real.

The question as to why  the boy is nude, why not just give him pants to begin with, Sendak snaps out that the boy is dreaming–and little boys dream sometimes in the nude. “Haven’t you ever dreamed in the nude?” he asks Colbert. I believe Colbert claimed he was always wearing pants.

Personally, I’m not interested in that mystery, my question is why are there TWO Oliver Hardys as chefs? Why even one, for that matter? I’ve always been fascinated by his decision to put a Hardy lookalike in the story, without a hint of a reason why. Creative license, no doubt.

I’ve long been a fan of Sendak, and yet know very little about him personally. So I was caught off guard when he explained to Colbert that he wasn’t attracted to the female imagery Colbert was throwing out at him, because he was gay. Colbert, being Colbert, straight shame shamefacedly asked, “then why are you allowed to write children’s books.” I believe that gave Sendak pause, maybe a bit of mind boggling was going on.

I was very happy to hear that this was only part one of his interview with the renowned author. I have to set my watch to make sure I tune into part two–it probably will be as acerbic as part one!

10 thoughts on “Stephen Colbert Vs Maurice Sendak, or Vice Versa”

  1. What a complete misread of this interview! While Sendak did seem like a bit of a media drop-out (many creative people are) I think he completely understood the satirical nature of the Colbert character. Nor did Sendak come off as a particularly curmudgeonly old man. He managed to be smart, honest and at the same time, be in on the joke. I can’t believe we watched the same interview. Your assessment seems both inaccurate and rather unfair.

  2. I liked your rundown of the interview, and applaud its swift release be it by East or West Coast, but having watched it twice being unable to not laugh aloud I disagree on the degree to which you characterize Maurice Sendak as boggled and feel his charm has been overlooked.

    He has that engaging demeanor of an old person who has shrugged off or overgrown meddlesome opinions or propriety, who’ll blithely cast off comments and carry on with their conversation. Ignoring the familiar, obnoxious, not-as-they-see-it or unwanted remarks, he embodies that full disclosure of perspective and, at least somewhat inadvertently, provides hilarious remarks and reactions.

    Yes there’s some disconnect with the quick repartee typical of Colbert that attempts to catch interviewees off-guard, slip in an amusing comment and hasten the conversation. While the audience anticipates the setup with the holes cutout for the illusion of censorship from In the Night Kitchen, Sendak clearly finds a chuckle the moment Colbert sticks his finger through to represent that private part in a more lustrous manner than if the image remained untouched. Yet in other instances I felt he was as cognizant as he pleased to be in his responses and as shrewd as Colbert.

    It was Sendak’s salient personality that will draw me to the second part of his interview, and perhaps to other, limited, public affairs. He speaks unequivocally towards this and that, reminding me of those let’s say ‘generational’ remarks over the holidays you anticipate and can only reply, “Oh Grandpa.” As Colbert references the ‘wild rumpus’ in Where the Wild Things Are to probe if it has a sexual connotation he elicits an unabashed, amusingly descriptive ‘yes’ that can only truly be conveyed by viewing the interview.

    Tired of onerous conversations, likely reclusive (quite the fan of Emily Dickinson) and admittedly misanthropic, I imagine he lives comfortably divorced from the “day of TV Internet, iphones etc” cause he does not care for these things – he is 83, why bother. Yet in his old-age he gives the impression that he values happiness, remains intrigued as to the imagination of a child’s mind and has a warming affect – if only by the hilarity of his reminiscing on how: “it is a miracle I have lived this long without having destroyed a person” – that intrigues me as to what balances the curmudgeon to contribute in his field.

    [Wish italicizing for proper citation and adding hyperlinks were intuitive]

    • Good grief! I’m flummoxed as to the seriousness with which my rather light hearted summation of a small interview has engendered. I don’t think anywhere in my article I made Sendak out to be stupid or dishonest. Clearly, the man is a legend, there’s no question as to his honestly or intelligence.
      But yes, I believe he wasn’t as aware of the Colbert character as many other’s Colbert has interviewed. And, he’s old, and he’s testy, and in my mind’s I, that makes him curmudgeonly. I don’t think that’s an unfair assessment, nor do I think we saw two different interviews–I think we see what we want sometimes–and since I knew positively nothing about Sendak personally, other than meeting him at a signing years ago–another thing he apparently despises–I was taken aback by his rather acerbic personality. I’m sorry you see this as a negative towards Sendak, somehow I doubt he would.

    • I am surprised at not only one, but two people responding to a rather quick, what I thought as light hearted look at a small interview, lol. I think this will teach me to never underestimate the power of the Colbert bump, ha. I appreciate your weighing in on my article, and almost all of what you say is probably true–but as I responded to the other individual–I was only reacting to what I saw–and this is my opinion. I tried to watch it again last night–but it wasn’t available on Colbert’s website. Perhaps if I had, and analyzed each response, I would have seen the twinkle in Sendak’s eyes denoting his complete understanding of Colbert’s character. But I didn’t, so I can’t respond any differently than I did.
      I do think he was intelligent and shrewd–that doesn’t mean that he completely ‘got’ Colbert. If he did, I didn’t see it, and that’s OK. The second part of the interview will be aired and my misconceptions, if I have them, can be set straight. I really enjoyed reading your take on the interview–especially the ‘oh Grandpa’ allusion, lol!

      • I think we deviate in our objectives in grasping Colbert as a character and Sendak being boggled by his remarks, as one isn’t tantamount to the other. Sendak clearly didn’t anticipate Colbert’s rabblery and I agree once you reach the point in saying Sendak thinks him a fool. To think otherwise would make an exception to his pessimism I’d have no credence to imagine.

        It’s more than a ‘twinkle in Sendak’s eyes’ – ‘for real’ – that fed the impression that Sendak wasn’t gulled into Colbert’s jokes (a jab for a jab). While you may defend the original blog post as an immediate response, I’d refrain from cementing your perspective and making it incontestable by ‘opinion’ – I thought you had intended to edit the post, but perhaps that’s the liberating component of blogging I find unfamiliar.

        Sendak directed in his responses while Colbert promptly & quite cleverly encouraged the author’s latent diatribes. Also of course, he layered jokes atop those responses amusing him, the audience, and Sendak himself. I had a disparate perspective I wound up writing, and perhaps intended to by being enthused by the interview, and in the end it returns to appreciating how Maurice Sendak stirred us to write and recount the interview.

        • As I replied above to JF Norris–after having viewed the second part of the interview–I can agree that he got Colbert and was enjoying the banter. I don’t ‘cement’ my thoughts, lol, I continue thinking, reviewing, and can evolve. But–I won’t edit my original post–that’s what these comments are for–if I go about changing what I originally wrote, then it isn’t really a blog–I’m not a journalist–hell, journalists are journalists anymore, ha ha, no one seems to stick to reporting rather than opinionating. (I think I may have just created a word, I wonder if the dictionary will include it like Colbert’s truthiness?)
          Again, I do think he is a curmudgeon. That being stated, he’s a pretty damn funny one, and anyone who hates e-books cannot be bad. Not that I ever thought he was bad. After the interview, I pulled out a copy of In The Night Kitchen, and I realized that there are 3! Oliver Hardys. Now there’s a factual error! LOL. Apparently he endured signings back in the early 80s, because he inscribed it for me. May he live long and prosper.

  3. Diane –

    I just watched part one AND part two on You have to put up with idiotic commercials, but it’s free. Sendak’s sharp. On Colbert not dreaming naked: “You’re a man of little imagination.” On Colbert wanting to be a children’s writer: “Well, you’re an idiot. That’s step one.”

    And I learn that Maurice Sendak has always wanted to kill someone. AH! A man after my own heart. This was great. I think Sendak got it. He played along and he got in a few jibes at the same time. His final four letter word strewn comments on e-books prove to me that he is as sharp and brilliant as ever. I’m still laughing over his tirade.

    • Hello! After seeing the second part-I can now agree that he got Colbert, a lot more than I thought from viewing the first part. Yes, his comments on e-books sealed the deal for me, lol. Still, I think he can be classified as curmudgeonly–and that doesn’t need to be viewed as a negative, especially when the crum part is so funny. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Well, Diane! I have to say I caught the first part of the Sendak interview with my teenage son and I thought it was a bit mind-boggling. I think Sendak was a flummoxed and curmudgeony. I think some of Sendak’s responses even bafled Colbert. Sendak certainly seemed a bit out of touch with what is typically interpreted as politically correct. I commented to my son that I could envision teachers everywhere pulling the award -winning “Where the Wild Things Are” from classroom bookshelves everywhere across America the next morning.

    • Thank goodness someone else saw what I did. Although I feel he the second part showed him being much clearer about being in on the joke, the first still felt as if he really resented the questions. And no matter what–he is curmudgeonly–which may not even be a bad thing, but it does seem to be a fact. Thanks for stopping by!

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