- Associated Press - Friday, April 11, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - With the announcement that Stephen Colbert will be the new host of CBS‘ “Late Show,” his fans likely feel a clash of emotions:

- Happiness that their hero has landed a sweet promotion.

- Regret that he’s leaving his Comedy Central post.

- Uncertainty over who the Stephen Colbert hosting “Late Show” will be.

For nine years on “The Colbert Report,” he has reigned as the founding father of Colbert Nation. He has won four Emmys, two Peabody awards and a stake in the national conversation. He hasn’t just satirized politics and culture, he has rolled up his sleeves to organize a “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on Washington’s National Mall with his Comedy Central colleague Jon Stewart, and to create a super PAC to draw attention to the tyranny of money on elections.

And he has done it all behind a mask - the mask of “Stephen Colbert,” a pompous, clueless conservative pundit who, to his admirers, seems a funhouse version of a Fox News Channel star.

He will leave “Stephen Colbert” behind when he heads to CBS sometime in 2015, taking over for the retiring David Letterman (who has not yet specified an exit date).

But in lieu of “Stephen Colbert,” who will Colbert offer up to his audience instead? Who is behind the “Stephen Colbert” mask?

Even Colbert isn’t sure - or, if he is, he declines to say.

“I won’t be doing the new show in character,” explained Colbert in a statement on Thursday. “So we’ll all get to find out how much of him was me.”

As a performer who began with the Second City improv troupe, then starred in the brilliant sketch comedy series “Exit 57” and the screwball spoof “Strangers with Candy,” Colbert is hardly a one-trick pony. But his genius has been largely exhibited, and his reputation sealed, through the “Stephen Colbert” persona he has played to perfection on “The Colbert Report” since its debut in 2005, and for eight years before that as a bloviating “correspondent” on the Stewart-hosted “Daily Show.”

Through it all, he stays in character - the “Stephen Colbert” character - with only a twinkle in his eye to let his audience know HE knows that most of what he utters is purposely dimwitted or wrong. He wrings larger meaning from nearly everything he does, illuminating it with self-contained mockery.

For nearly two decades, he has not only sustained but fortified this identity, giving it a full-bodied life of its own. It’s quite an act.

Now he’s decided to move on. (Comedy Central said he’ll end “The Colbert Report” in eight months.)

Stewart voiced congratulations on Thursday’s “The Daily Show”: “The exciting news today is, I no longer need a cable subscription for the privilege of watching Stephen Colbert.”

Story Continues →