Late Show host and former The Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert is an unabashed fantasy geek and long-time Dungeons & Dragons player. Though his love of D&D is no secret, we’ve never had the chance to see him play firsthand. All that changes today.
Critical Role’s producer Marisha Ray and its Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer flew out to New York just days ago to sit down for a one-on-one game of D&D with Stephen Colbert. This game is now available to on YouTube; you can find the video embedded below. This game wasn’t just a flight of fancy, but a fundraiser to benefit Red Nose Day, a charity with a mission to end child poverty. Fans of D&D, Critical Role, and Stephen Colbert could donate to affect the game, with every $20 pledge counting as a vote towards adventure elements such as: the plot of the adventure, who the villain of the adventure would be, and what legendary artifact Colbert’s character would find during the adventure.
Ultimately, the Critical Role fan community blew past their original goal of $50,000, with the highest single donation exceeding $1,000. You can watch the video now, or join the Critical Role community to watch it "live" on twitch.tv/criticalrole at 6 PM today (5/23/2019).
Stephen Colbert, Nerd Icon
His love of (and encyclopedic knowledge of) the works of J.R.R. Tolkien is well known, and he takes huge pride in being an “OG nerd…back when [being a] nerd meant something…[before it was] hip to be a nerd.” Last year, he invited actor Joe Manganiello on the Late Show to talk about their love of the original “red box” D&D set, and about Manganiello’s ‘80s heavy metal-inspired streetwear brand, Death Saves. In that interview, Colbert and Manganiello discussed the need to have friends to roleplay with, and lamented their occasional inability to gather friends and roll dice, citing the “secretive” nature of D&D, thanks to its lack of coolness and the moral fright now known as the “Satanic Panic.”
Times have changed.
Colbert appearing side-by-side with Matthew Mercer, in many ways the face of the modern age of D&D, is a landmark moment. Colbert has been quietly injecting the pride of being an unabashed nerd into the mainstream for years, ever since he was a correspondent on The Daily Show. But it’s always been a very personal thing. Colbert’s love of Tolkien and D&D always seemed like a fluke; that a nerdy guy managed to make it to late night TV was indicative of how he was able to compartmentalize his geeky traits and present a respectable and relatable appearance. His nerdy passions were just another comic bit for a mainstream audience to laugh at, even though Colbert’s pride was authentic.
Again—times have changed.
These days, it’s easier than ever to find a group to play D&D with, thanks in part to its visibility on livestreamed shows like Critical Role; loving parody appearances in children’s cartoons like The Amazing World of Gumball and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power; the celebrity endorsements of actors and personalities like Deborah Ann Woll, Vin Diesel, Terry Crews, and Stephen Colbert. The list continues, but suffice to say, D&D has suffused pop media in a hitherto unprecedented way—save perhaps for when an official D&D cartoon was on the air.
When Colbert roasted James Franco for daring to challenge his knowledge of The Silmarillion on The Colbert Report, he was stridently defending his passions from a Johnny-come-lately. Someone who might be, as Colbert later said to Joe Manganiello, was a bandwagoner who was reading a book he may have once been teased for loving, just because “because it’s hip to be a nerd now.” Now, staring at Matthew Mercer from the other side of a DM screen, Colbert no longer needs to defend his turf. Critical Role, and by extension Mercer himself, is emblematic of an influx of new players into D&D driven not by the bogeyman of trend-chasing, but by an authentic and inextinguishable love for nerdiness.
It’s not so much that it’s “hip to be a nerd now,” but rather that being a nerd isn’t uncool anymore. The difference is subtle, but meaningful. And it’s exemplified in the difference in attitude between the good-natured but exclusionary posturing in Colbert’s interview with Joe Manganiello and the rapport between Colbert and Mercer, a man renowned for throwing wide the gates of D&D to thousands of new players over the past few years.
Stephen Colbert is a nerd icon beloved by non-nerds. People who watch The Late Show but who have never picked up a twenty-sided die may see this game and decide to try out the game that their favorite talk show host plays. Even though Colbert, by his own admission, hadn’t played D&D since he was in college, one can only hope that his return to this game will inspire a new wave of players—both new and lapsed—to gather their party, bust out their dice, and play Dungeons & Dragons.
What did you think of Mercer and Colbert's game? Do you want to see Colbert in a full game of D&D after this? Let us know in the comments!
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their animal companions Mei and Marzipan. You can find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.