Stephen Colbert Is Montclair’s Man-About-Town

Like many Montclair residents, I’ve had some fun run-ins with the Late Show host.

illustration of Stephen Colbert in Montclair

Illustration: Andrew Ogilvie

Long before he was a world-famous talk show host, Stephen Colbert was just another denizen of my suburban New Jersey town. He and his wife, Evie, raised their three kids in Montclair and prided themselves not on their impressive resumes, but on being good neighbors and community members. They joined nonprofits and helped launch the Montclair Film Festival. Stephen hosted events at his kids’ schools and taught Sunday school at Immaculate Conception Church.

Like most people who’ve been in town awhile, I have a few stories about crossing paths with Colbert around town. I’ve seen him give hilarious surprise performances at fundraisers, jumping onstage and singing with the band dressed in a suit as David Byrne or in gray wig and beard as Dr. John. Once, I was walking toward the Wellmont Theater for his interview with singer Mavis Staples when my friend spied him taking selfies with fans. She grabbed my arm and, like groupies, we took off. As I approached him, fumbling with my phone, he took it, flipped it expertly, and shot. In the photo, he’s making a silly face; I’m smiling ear to ear.

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One Halloween, he made a surprise appearance at his own door. My eldest daughter and a friend, bored teenagers at a neighborhood party, had decided it would be more fun to go trick-or-treating at the Colberts’. When they asked me for a ride, everyone laughed. “Yeah, Stephen Colbert is going to come to the door,” they teased.

His neighborhood was quiet; no other trick-or-treaters were in sight as we approached his house, despite the inviting pumpkin lights lining the path. Nervously, my daughter’s friend rang the bell. The door swung open and there stood Montclair’s most famous resident holding a bowl of candy, his younger son on one side and a fluffy, well-behaved dog on the other. We gaped for a minute before the girls remembered why they had come—ostensibly, anyway.

“Trick or treat!” they said, stepping forward for their take, thanking him and complimenting him on the decorations. Sounding like any run-of-the-mill dad, he said, “Thanks! We worked hard on it.”

Being the funnyman he is, though, he couldn’t resist a joke. Noticing me gawking out of view (or so I thought), he peered into the darkness. “How about you? Candy?” he asked, grinning.

That was more than a decade ago, and things have changed in Montclair and the world. As host of the top-rated Late Show, Colbert is more security conscious. He’s still involved with the film festival, but doesn’t mill around with fans before events. His kids grown, he’s no longer a presence at their schools or handing out Halloween treats. But at his core, he’s still a regular guy.

A few years ago, as I walked down the steps of my house with my dog, he happened to be striding up the street toward me. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Hi, Stephen!” He stopped, smiled, stuck out his hand and said, “Have we met?”

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