The XX Factor

Will Colbert Be as Funny Without Allison Silverman?

The NYT ’s Arts Beat blog reported this morning that Allison Silverman, the executive producer of The Colbert Report , is stepping down from her post , apparently rather suddenly, at the start the show’s three-week vacation. The Times cites a source as saying that, more or less, Silverman is burned out by the unforgiving schedule of putting together the daily fake news broadcast.

Until I saw Silverman speak at a panel on political humor last year, I’d always maintained that, although I tune into The Daily Show more regularly than The Colbert Repor t , Colbert himself is a funnier person than Stewart. She was so impressive, though, that I began to wonder if the more apt declaration was that he “has a funnier persona”-one which, in no small part, is bolstered by his crack behind-the-scenes team.

Silverman’s often trotted out as an example in articles seeking to refute the Christopher Hitchens “women aren’t funny” thesis. (She was asked about his infamous Vanity Fair piece on the subject at the panel I attended, and answered that it didn’t bug her: “It was just an old man yelling at cars from his yard.”) Indeed, in a bit of redress, even Vanity Fair sat down with her to talk about being a funny woman , yielding this nugget on how Silverman thinks “status shifts”-a change in who controls the power in a scene-inform comedy:

It’s not funny to see someone powerless being mocked. I think most people react against that, actually-unless they are a particularly cruel audience. What’s much more fun is to see someone who does have power, and is in the dominant position, become exposed.

This is apparent in much of what The Colbert Report mocks-and is, of course, the principle underlying why last winter’s moaning about how Stewart and Colbert wouldn’t be funny now that Obama’s in office was so misplaced. (Luckily, too, the Colbert/Stewart definition of power is both more nuanced and wide-ranging than that.) But if you take Silverman’s last sentence totally out of context-and I will!-it describes what we’re about to see: Colbert becoming a bit exposed. Will he be quite as good without Silverman as his Cyrano , or has her role been exaggerated?

Photograph of Allison Silverman by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.