How tragedy brings out the comedians' best

Comedian Stephen Colbert

Late Show host Stephen Colbert was finishing up work on Friday 13 November when he heard the news: more than 100 people had been killed in orchestrated attacks in Paris. He sat behind his desk, looked into the camera and let his tears fall as he told the audience, "Folks, we end tonight's show with a heavy heart because we taped all of tonight's show, and then we found out about the horrific attacks in Paris."

When he returned to work the following Monday, he had a more cogent response, one that, against all odds, even mixed a little humour with its empathy. "New York is a city that sadly knows all too well the horror the French experienced," he said. "We stand with the people of France as a friend and as an ally, and offer the hope that there is a way through the unspeakable tragedy."

He also read a few tweets from people who seemed to claim sincerely that they were watching the animated film Ratatouille, which is set in Paris, as a gesture of support.

It was exactly the kind of silly sentiment Colbert would normally lacerate with his next remark, but instead he defended it: "Watching a cartoon Parisian rat cook soup is certainly as valid as anything I will say tonight, I promise you that. If it makes you feel a connection to the people of France, go drink a bottle of Bordeaux, eat a croissant at Au Bon Pain, slap on a beret and smoke a cigarette. Anything that is an attempt at human connection is positive."

His band, Jon Batiste & Stay Human, punctuated the moment with a sombre version of La Marseillaise instead of Colbert's standard theme song.

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