The following are selected questions and answers from an interview with President Donna E. Shalala two days after she appeared on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report on Jan. 30. Some of the questions have been edited for brevity.
The Miami Hurricane: Do you watch “The Colbert Report”? What do you think of the show?
Donna Shalala: Yes. I think it’s hilarious.
TMH: Would you call yourself a fan?
DS: Big fan.
TMH: Do you watch the “Daily Show [with Jon Stewart]” as well?
DS: I do, and I read The Onion. I was one of the original supporters of [the newspaper], financial and otherwise. In fact, one of those writers is a writer for Colbert. He was so excited to see me. He said, “No one else would support us and you thought we were hilarious.”
TMH: Was [the invitation to appear on “Colbert”] related to the National Academy study?
DS: Yes it was, but it was too late for them to bring that up, so they didn’t bring it up.
TMH: What was the overall experience like, with the fans, the young crowd?
DS: There was a green room with my name on it. I’ve never had a green room with my name on it. The fans were very enthusiastic. When they heard I was a college president a few people yelled out, “Go ‘Canes.”
TMH: What was Stephen Colbert like off-camera?
DS: Sweet. Very sweet.
TMH: Did you have much time to interact with him?
DS: No, just like a second before I went out. He had another interview on the show and he was in preparation most of the time. A couple of the writers came out because one was the son of a prominent lawyer here in town and another had been on The Onion, one of the original founding writers. And then some of the other writers came up to shake my hand; they were very excited to meet me.
TMH: Did you see his [Colbert’s] address at the White House correspondents’ dinner?
DS: I did.
TMH: Would you like to comment on that?
DS: It’s a very tough audience. If they don’t watch the show, it’s hard to understand him getting up and doing his routine. He’s really at his best with a college audience.
TMH: Did you ask him to come to visit UM?
DS: I did. I told him that we would host him at UM, that we would provide the space for him to do his show from here, they should come for a week. I talked to his producer, the executive producer and I pitched him directly.I think they’ve always done the show in New York.but I raised the issue with him. I promised a group of students that I would beg him to come down. The dean of [the School of] Communication [Sam L Grogg] said they can accommodate the show. I’m going to follow up with a letter.
TMH: How was his interview different from the usual interview? Did you prepare any differently?
DS: I read some about the show, but because I watch the show I sort of knew what the routine was and that it was very high-risk because he puts people off, but I’m pretty experienced at being interviewed. I figured if he’d asked me a wacky question, I’d try a wacky answer. It’s sort of like being interview by a drunk in a bar-you just don’t know; [the questions] come from left field. But if you have a job like mine, that’s a daily occurrence.
TMH: Like the cheese curd question.
DS: Yeah, it does sound like [makes hissing, squeaking sound]. He was a little stunned that I had an answer.
TMH: Did any of your friends call you after the interview?
DS: Yes, I got a lot of emails. A couple television reporters called me; a bunch of journalists who know me. It’s amazing how few people over 30 saw the show. Most of the e-mails I got were from the children of friends who saw it. Ninety percent of the emails were from people under thirty that I knew, including hundreds of students.
Shalala’s interview with Colbert may be seen at comedycentral.com/motherload.
Greg Linch may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.