If it was not clear from Polygon’s 52-week Year of the Ring deep dive, Dec. 19, 2021, marks the 20th anniversary of the theatrical release of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. While much has changed in the movie industry, and indeed the world, in that time, one thing has remained stable and true: Stephen Colbert’s love of all things Lord of the Rings.
On Wednesday’s Late Show, Colbert was able to use his longtime fandom to bring together a cast reunion of sorts, and then some. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen, Method Man, Killer Mike, and Anna Kendrick all showed up in a rap tribute to the franchise.
While “57-year old talk show host rapping” might sound a little cringe, once the mic gets passed to Method Man and Killer Mike, the song really starts to cook. And when the Elvish rap starts going, it takes off to another level.
Disses for other franchises come in hot and heavy, with Killer Mike going after Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as “capitalistic propaganda,” and Anna Kendrick gets insult after insult hurled her way for Pitch Perfect and Twilight, despite her protesting that she’s barely in those movies.
Colbert’s love of the Shire, Rohan, Gondor, and all the other wonderful locales of Middle-earth is no secret by this point. Nor was it ever, really, for Colbert-heads. Back in 2006, when Colbert was still best known for his acerbic character of the same name on The Colbert Report, a New York magazine profile noted “a few distinctive decorative touches” in his office, like a Lord of the Rings pinball game.
In fact, the author notes that one difficulty in trying to capture a star with a rabid fan base like Colbert had at the time “is that when you point out things like the fact that he’s a huge Lord of the Rings nerd and has, on his desk, a heavy picture book titled A Tolkien Bestiary, roughly half the readers will think, Hmmm, interesting, while the other half will think, Yes! Yes! Of course! Colbert’s a Tolkien nut!”
Word soon spread. Entertainment Weekly took a photo series of Colbert in Middle-earth garb, dressing up as Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and Legolas around New York City.
On the Report, guests like James Franco began challenging Colbert to “Tolkien-offs,” and losing poorly. It was a tradition that continued as Colbert moved onto The Late Show, from onetime HQ Trivia host Scott Rogowsky to Hobbit trilogy cast member Lee Pace, who attempted to greet Colbert with one of Tolkien’s languages. When Pace was struggling, Colbert not only corrected him, but noted that he was attempting a language which his character — Thranduil, son of Oropher, the Elvenking, wouldn’t typically speak. Pace slunk into his seat in shock.
Colbert earned himself a blink-and-you-missed-it cameo in The Desolation of Smaug, but perhaps the height of his public fandom came in 2015, when a Turkish doctor named Bilgin Ciftci was arrested by his government for posting pictures online comparing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Gollum. Arrested for violating a law that censures anyone who “publicly denigrates state officials, the government and the judicial institutions of the state,” Cifti had a novel defense: Gollum was not a villain. The court was actually thinking of Sméagol.
This was a chance for Tolkien experts around the world to prove their worth, and Colbert jumped in, going full Atticus Finch while quoting from The Silmarillion. Eventually, after his lawyers repeatedly watched the movies to back up his claims, and after a panel of Turkish experts declared Gollum “not evil,” Cifti was acquitted.
Colbert’s obsession is also a mutual love affair. In 2019, he tried pitching Peter Jackson on a spinoff for his cameo character, Lake-town Spy, as Darrlygorn, Aragorn’s more handsome brother. When Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd, aka Merry and Pippin, came on The Late Show to plug their new podcast, they offered Colbert two trivia questions in an effort to stump him. When Boyd’s question about the Ents actually drew a blank for Colbert, a prerecorded message from Jackson came in: “We’ve got to answer the question, who knows Merry and Pippin better: Merry and Pippin, or Stephen Colbert?”