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Stephen Colbert gets a crew cut in Iraq

Gen. Ray Odierno shaved the comedian's head – under orders from President Obama – during one of four shows of the Colbert Report taped on location in Baghdad.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 8, 2009

Gen. Ray Odierno shaves the head of Comedy Central TV host Stephen Colbert during a taping of "The Colbert Report" in Iraq on Sunday.

Steve Manuel/AP


Baghdad, Iraq

In the normally surreal atmosphere of US military headquarters in Saddam Hussein's former palace, a taped appearance by President Obama ordering his top general in Iraq to shave comedian Stephen Colbert's head didn't even seem that odd.

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To the delighted audience of about 250 servicemen and women who were the studio audience of "Operation Iraq Stephen: Going Commando," the show was part of an hour-long suspension of a war that for many on this vast base has become more drudgery than danger.

Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" airing Monday night is the first of four episodes of the satirical program to be taped in Iraq, sponsored by the United Service Organization (USO) and broadcast this week in a unique collaboration with the military.

In the ballroom of the marble palace at Camp Victory Sunday night, Mr. Colbert bounded onto the stage wearing a business suit made of the same camouflage fabric of Army uniforms. Swinging a golf club, he told the audience what a thrill it was to bring his show to the men and women in Iraq: "a country so nice we invaded it twice."

Dark humor

"It must be nice here, because I understand some of you keep coming back again and again and again," he said to a wave of laughter.

It's a little-known fact that there is a lot of dark humor in war – soldiers cope by finding things funny that the rest of the world likely wouldn't appreciate. Fittingly, one of the biggest laughs was in response to one of the reasons why Colbert said the US should declare victory here: The US has "eliminated weapons of mass destruction." "Easier than we thought" ran the subtext on a giant screen.

"This is not 'Camp Cautiously Optimistic'.... This is not 'Camp Obviously We Must Work Towards Sunni Participation in the Upcoming Elections in January 2010.' This is Camp Victory!," Colbert bellowed behind a set made up of red, white, and blue sandbags.

Holding up a Risk boardgame and saying the rules state it's not over till someone declares victory, he said: "You heard it here first – I, Stephen Colbert, by the power invested in me by basic cable, officially declare: 'We won the Iraq war.' "

"That's a little concerning. We're not quite ready to declare victory yet," guest star Gen. Ray Odierno told him, adding there was still some work they had to do with the government of Iraq. "It's about long-term stability. It's still dangerous out here."

General Odierno gives Colbert a shave