He plays The Villain, in other words. A caricatured exaggeration (but not as much as you'd think,) version of what his audience already despises, offering his back to the sarcastic lash that cultural segregation largely shields his non-joking inspirations from - a martyr in effigy, nailing himself to the crucifix of parody and dying, four nights a week, for Roger Ailes' sins.
At least, that's how it started out. But as anyone who's watched the evolution of fictional monsters like Dracula, Godzilla or Jason Voorhees can tell you, a bad guy who hangs around long enough inevitably becomes the protagonist. So too is it with Colbert - or, rather, the version of him that hosts The Colbert Report. He's been inhabiting the character so well for so long that the audience is more likely to cheer in recognition when one of his well-worn "bad guy" opinions bubbles to the surface, the same effect by which professional wrestlers get the audience to applaud for them for a double-cross betrayals everyone knew was coming.
As such, more of what we're to understand as the "real" Stephen Colbert's personality has been allowed to surface over the years. The persona is by now a double act, wherein a subtle smirk cues a readily-familiar audience as to when "real Stephen" is peeking out from behind "fake Stephen's" metaphorical mask. By now the nuance is almost an absurdist gag in its own right. Fake Stephen gives thumbs-up to Sarah Palin's latest proclamation and the audience snickers knowingly. Real Stephen geeks out when challenged to a lightsaber duel by George Lucas and the audience erupts unironically. And for half an hour a night, this works. This makes sense. This is often hilarious and frequently insightful.
But last week (and over the weekend), a piece of that self-contained world slipped up into the Twittersphere and took on a life of its own. At issue? On the March 27th episode, Colbert voiced his (in character) support for Washington Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder refusing to consider changing the team's name to something slightly less racist while simultaneously announcing a charitable foundation for Native American issues. In (mock) solidarity, Colbert called back to a mostly-forgotten 2005 sketch which (hello, irony!) was intended to mock comics who tried to hide genuinely bigoted routines in the protection of "I'm just doing a character!" In that sketch he busted out a string of stereotypical Asian mannerisms as simply being "my new character" Mister Ching-Chong Ding-Dong. In the spirit of the "similarly misunderstood" Redskins, he announced The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitive to Orientals or Whatever. A laugh was had, the show went on, that ought've been the end of it.
Unfortunately, the show's official Twitter (manned by Comedy Central staff, separately from Colbert's own personal account) opted to subsequently share the announcement of the fake charity as a tweet-sized gag in its own right, rather than as punchline to a bigger buildup as it had been in the show. This was judged (fairly or not) to be in poor taste by influential/heavily-followed Korean-American social-media activist Suey Park. Not long after her call to cancel The Colbert Report had a sizable number of Twitter activists joining her and soon the #CancelColbert hashtag trending worldwide.