This week, news came down the pipe that Philip Roth, the esteemed and publicly retiring novelist, will be sitting down in July for an interview with Stephen Colbert, the esteemed and publicly ascendant satirist and talk show host. The following is a reconstruction of how we might expect their conversation to go.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Mr. Roth, thank you for sitting down with me. It’s an honor.
PHILIP ROTH: The honor is all mine, Stephen.
SC: Of course it is, that’s what I meant. It’s an honor for you. Now, I don’t really read a lot of novels, I prefer non-fiction, like Anne Coulter and the Twilight series.
PR: The Twilight series? How very 2010 of you.
SC: Thank you. I’m an old-fashioned guy with old-fashioned values. Which leads directly to my next question, one the world has wanted to know since you first burst on the literary scene however many hundreds of years ago: why liver?
PR: Why not? It’s cheap, nutritious, easy to handle, and at the time, was something often found in the refrigerator of most lower-middle-class Jewish homes. You couldn’t use a steak—a family like that got a steak maybe once a month. And you want something a little more pliable, to be honest. A steak can have some gristle on it. You wouldn’t want that.
SC: But again, why a liver? If your work, as it is to be believed, is about the particular moment, or moments, when the Jews as a people become Americanized, why not go for a real American meat from our Anglo-Saxon tradition, like a kidney?
PR: Stephen, as I imagined Portnoy, I don’t know that a kidney could have satisfactorily…encompassed what he was dealing with.
SC: You obviously never saw the kidneys my mother bought.
PR: You’re right. If I was writing it now, who knows what I might have chosen. Liver has fallen out of vogue, but I’ve always been curious about the possibilities offered by the cavity in a roasting chicken. Before it’s cooked, obviously. Otherwise the bones would splinter. Again, you don’t want that. I have given this some thought.
SC: Let’s move on. What do you call people who say the priapism and sexual frenzy of much of your work is inappropriate and over the top?
SC: Touché. And what do you call the Jews who claim that your critical gaze on their culture and traditions is hateful, or indeed, self-hating?
SC: I’d say touché again, but I already used it once. Now, for the patriots in the audience who need to know: your book, I Married a Communist. Why do you hate America, Mr. Roth?
PR: I don’t hate America. I just hate my ex-wife.
SC: Obama has said he’s a fan of yours, which obviously means you are inherently untrustworthy. What do you have to say to that?
PR: I’ve always been popular in the Muslim world.
SC: (Stifles a laugh) We’re running out of time, so I just wanted to say: I’ve won a Peabody, a Grammy, more Emmys than… well, look, to be honest, even I don’t know how many Emmys I have. A lot. And then there’s you. Why no Nobel?
PR: Why no Thurber?
SC: I’ve been thinking about that. Maybe they just don’t think we’re going to really truly “bring it” on the red carpet. Have you thought about hiring a stylist?
PR: Not yet. But I did have a one-night stand with Joan Rivers in 1972.
SC: Really? I didn’t know that.
PR: She doesn’t either.
SC: And that’s our interview! Philip Roth, thank you for joining us, and enjoy the quiet of the grave!
PR: Thank you, Stephen. I will.