Colbert interviews Paul Offit, accidental release of Southern accent

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Last night I was delighted to see that Stephen Colbert interviewed pediatric infectious disease specialist and developer of the rotovirus vaccine, Dr. Paul Offit of The Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia (CHOP). Offit, a perennial target of anti-vaccination personalities, was promoting his book, “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All.”

Colbert does his typically accurate contrarian schtick, this time illustrating the common views held by those who are against childhood vaccination while Offit points out that scientists have not done a very good job – previously – of communicating about the demonstration of no link to autism and the dishonest work of Andrew Wakefield. Offit also points a central conceptual challenge to the public regarding any public health initiative: when it works, nothing happens.

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Paul Offit
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The interview was certainly fun to watch but what caught my ear around 0:22 was the inflection when Colbert shook Offit’s hand and thanked him for coming on. During his childhood in Charleston, South Carolina, Colbert took to impersonating TV anchors to neutralize his natural Southern accent. As he stated in this 2006 interview on 60 Minutes:

“At a very young age, I decided I was not gonna have a southern accent. Because people, when I was a kid watching TV, if you wanted to use a shorthand that someone was stupid, you gave the character a southern accent. And that’s not true. Southern people are not stupid. But I didn’t wanna seem stupid. I wanted to seem smart. And so I thought, ‘Well, you can’t tell where newsmen are from,’” Colbert explains.

Personally, I love the accent of the American South. When used by some folks, it can even sound aristocratic, perhaps harkening back to the English and Scottish settlers of the area. But, sadly, Colbert’s perception is the more common one.

Being a Yankee who has lived in the South for a third of his life, I can certainly tell when that accent breaks through in my speech.

And so it did when Colbert introduced Offit: “Hey Doctor Offit, thanks fer coming ahwwn.”

Stephen Colbert – good ol’ boy.

For more “Southern Accents” – see this Tom Petty performance from 1986 in his hometown of Gainesville, Florida:

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