colbert_knox.jpgKENT KRIEGSHAUSER/The Register-Mail

Comedian Stephen Colbert shows off his honorary degree at the 2006 Knox College commencement ceremony.

Colbert can't burn degree

Knox College sends comedian fireproof diploma

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

GALESBURG - Comedian and political satirist Stephen Colbert tried to burn his honorary degree from Knox College on Monday night's episode of his Comedy Central show "The Colbert Report" in mock anger over the college's decision to grant former U.S. President Bill Clinton a similar honor this year.

Calling Clinton a "coat-tail rider" and accusing Knox College of ignoring his earlier threats to burn the piece of paper on air, Colbert tried to torch his honorary degree, to no avail.

That's because Knox College President Roger Taylor was serious earlier this year when he said he would send Colbert a fireproof diploma, after Colbert issued an ultimatum to the college stemming from Knox's decision to invite Clinton to speak and receive an honorary degree.

While Colbert received an honorary doctorate of arts and Clinton received an honorary doctorate of laws, Colbert said he believed Clinton was "stealing his thunder," so Taylor sent Colbert an honorary degree made of steel that wouldn't catch fire.

"You win this round, Knox College," Colbert said, noting that "those geniuses at Knox College are pretty smart."

Before attempting to burn the honorary degree, Colbert joked he was going to miss being a doctor.

"That prescription pad sure came in handy," Colbert said.

Colbert also said he had hoped the college would just replay his 2006 commencement speech every year instead of inviting other high-profile speakers to campus. In addition to Colbert in 2006 and Clinton in 2007, a newly elected Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., delivered the college's commencement address in 2005.

A clip of Clinton's June 2 speech at Knox College also aired on the segment. In the clip, Clinton said the college awarded Abraham Lincoln an honorary degree in 1860 to help him win the presidency, then awarded Colbert an honorary degree in 2006 to help the comedian boost his ratings.

"In 2007, you're giving me an honorary degree so I can be attacked by Stephen Colbert," Clinton joked.

Later in the segment, Colbert threw his fireproof honorary degree at a life-size replica of Clinton and the piece of steel lodged in the figure's abdomen area.

"This is directed at Knox College, not at Bill Clinton," Colbert said.

Karrie Heartlein, director of public relations at Knox, said this morning the college was a "little worried" about Colbert and his propensity for violence and setting things on fire.

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