Colbert puts Bud Light Lime in the limelight on TV and at Rosenbach

Stephen Colbert said Bud Light Lime was "instrumental" in the creation of his manuscript for "I Am a Pole (And So Can You)."
Stephen Colbert said Bud Light Lime was "instrumental" in the creation of his manuscript for "I Am a Pole (And So Can You)."
Posted: July 27, 2012

HE IS HONORABLE and bold and all beef.

He is a star-spangled conservative American with a deep reverence for St. Ronald Reagan, "Ham" Rove and the unlimited wealth of secret Super PACs.

Fittingly, Stephen Colbert drinks Bud Light Lime.

Or, rather, he guzzles the stuff — bottle after bottle on the set of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report." He claims to take a sip of "the manliest fruit-flavored diet lager on the market" every time he says the word "nation."

This is no mere TV product placement. In Colbert's hands, Bud Light Lime is a symbol of crass commercialism and superficiality. For the satirist, it is a shrewd, mocking punch line.

Last week, the good-humored folks at Center City's "world-famous, little-known" Rosenbach Museum and Library played along with the joke. At the center of the museum's collection of rare books is James Joyce's original, handwritten manuscript of Ulysses, widely regarded as the greatest novel in the English language.

After Colbert's new illustrated children's book I Am a Pole (And So Can You) hit the best-seller list, the museum requested the comedian's manuscript for enshrinement alongside Ulysses.

In a typically inane episode of "The Colbert Report" (see it here: colbertnation.com/full-episodes/tue-july-17-2012-nas), the pages were ceremoniously turned over to a museum curator wearing clean, white cotton gloves. They were gently placed in a glass display case with other items from the author's desk: the pen used to write the book, the backup pen he had in his pocket "in case that one didn't work," some "pencil sketches I paid some guy to draw," a rhyming dictionary, a receipt for a turkey sandwich …

And the pair of Bud Light Lime bottles he drained while writing the less-than-epic book.

On camera, Rosenbach director Derick Dreher was skeptical about the beer. "I think it's probably going a little far to say a Bud Light Lime bottle played an important role in the creation of a manuscript."

Colbert replied, "Trust me, Derek, it was instrumental."

Indeed, I can't imagine Colbert drinking anything but Bud Light Lime. This is an off-kilter pundit who once railed against gravity because of its "liberal bias," who is proud of his ignorance and says he's "not a fan of facts," who routinely wonders: "George Bush … great president, or the greatest president?"

In Colbert's hands, Bud Light Lime is shorthand for mindless relief. It is cheap and synthetic and silly. It is cheesy and empty-headed and sadly ironic.

This is not exactly the message that Anheuser-Busch is looking to cultivate. The company spends millions to advertise the beer, in the words of one executive, as "a fun, social, spontaneous brand. It's all about having fun with your friends."

I don't know if the famous "Colbert bump" is shifting that message. But I do know that millions of viewers can't help but think of Bud Light Lime as a joke. In one episode that surely resonated with his audience, Colbert decried the end of Bush-era tax cuts for the rich by using a bottle to demonstrate the trickle-down theory of economics.

"This Bud Light Lime is a refreshing tax-cut … with lime. Now, the bigger my tax-cut is," he explained before swallowing a gulp, "the more money I can pour into the system. Then, very soon, the benefits will work their way through the system and trickle down … I mean like a racehorse.

“Then the other 97 percent of poorer Americans are welcome to have as much of that as they can collect."

For the record, Bud Light Lime's frequent presence on the show is not a paid product placement, according to Anheuser-Busch vice president Mike Sundet. "Mr. Colbert's inclusion of Bud Light Lime is made independently," he said in a statement, "and we're happy to have him as a fan."

Sundet's bosses at A-B's Belgian-owned parent — which Colbert once referred to as "waffle-humpers" — have a better sense of humor than I'd ever guess. But I doubt the company will ever quote his endorsement: It's "like drinking a Bud Light … downwind of an artificial flavor factory."

The bottles and other Colbert artifacts remain on display at the Rosenbach, 2008 Delancey St.

When I stopped by last week for a look-see, Dreher, the museum's director, was thrilled with the national publicity the stunt had generated. The acquisition, he said, was the product of "luck and serendipity" that stemmed from Colbert's relationship with the late children's book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak.

Shortly before Sendak died in May, Colbert conducted a wild interview during which the comic sniffed a Sharpie as the author provided a priceless blurb that now appears on the book's cover. ("The sad thing is, I like it!")

That interview brought a Colbert producer to the Rosenbach, which holds an estimated 10,000 separate Sendak artworks, papers and other items. The visit led to the bequeathal of Colbert's papers.

Dreher said several callers had questioned whether Colbert's manuscript deserves to be place alongside Ulysses.

"I tell them, ‘Yes, of course it does,'" Dreher said. " Ulysses is open to all forms of appreciation, and that includes parody.'"

"Joe Sixpack" is by Don Russell, director of Philly Beer Week. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at joesixpack.net. Email: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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