Stephen Colbert introduced what would become perhaps his signature concept, “truthiness,” in the very first episode of The Colbert Report. The Colbert character’s pursuit of “the truth,” or his satirical version of it, was front and center in those early days of the show. Each episode opened with a joke in which the host pledged to give his fans the unadulterated truth, the Colbert way. That first ever episode, for instance, began with him declaring: “Open wide, baby bird, because mama's got a big, fat nightcrawler of Truth.”
Over the course of its first month, every episode featured an introductory gag in which Colbert declared his love for the truth. "Shave off your body hair and put on your bike shorts. You just grabbed the yellow jersey in the Tour de Truth" and "Strike up the klezmer and start acting like a man. You're about to have a Truth Mitzvah." The first time Colbert did not mention “truth” in his opening it was in order to make a joke about how he was avoiding the word: “Get ready for authenticity, veracity, and verity. Someone's been reading a thesaurus."
Below are all the openings with the word “truth” in them, according to the meticulous records of Colbert Report episodes kept on Wikipedia.
By the 25th episode, however, Colbert and his writers unceremoniously retired the “truth” riff, opening instead with this line: "Get ready to make a difference... by watching TV." Since that fateful night, truth has rarely returned to the show’s introductory joke. The opening line was now more likely to be a riff on something in the news. Most of the opening jokes from the last month (“After 40 years, Burger King has brought back the Yumbo sandwich, don't worry, some of them are new” and “A New York high schooler made 72 million dollars trading stocks on his lunch hour. In a couple more years, he might have enough to pay for college.”) would fit equally well into any late-night monologue.
According to the listings on Wikipedia, in 2007 there were 138 episodes, and only one had no introductory phrase of any type. When Colbert was forced to do shows in 2008 without his writing staff due to the WGA strike, he stopped the tradition with 21 of the 22 shows sans writers opening straight to credits. When the writers returned so did the introductory phrases, though never in full force. For example, this year there have been 159 episodes with 99 missing the opening joke.
Will Colbert nod to his past and open tonight’s finale with a pre-credits joke, and one that trumpets his dedication to the truth? Something like the classic “You must be this tall to ride the TruthCoaster"? It would be a fitting callback to the concept that helped Colbert make his name. His relentless mockery of those shouting their opinion the loudest has reminded us not only is there a grain of truth in every joke, but also a joke in every proclamation of the truth.