NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Super-Bernanke!
The image of Ben Bernanke as Superman -- coming to save the U.S. economy from the villainy of the 2008 financial crisis -- was just one of many satirical portrayals of the former Federal Reserve chairman called forth last night by Stephen Colbert, the late-night talk show host who still loves to play politics.
Bernanke, the ex-banker-in-chief with a book to sell, visited with Colbert on CBS's (CBS - Get Report) Late Show, reminding the audience, whether it needed it or not, just how close the country came in 2008 to "unimaginable" disaster -- and of course, how lucky the economy was to have Bernanke as its commanding officer in charge of finance.
The title of Bernanke's new book, The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath, likely conjures images of sleep-deprived bankers doing math on legal pads and making furtive calls on solid-red telephones, all in the service of calming roiling markets and nervous investors. And Bernanke, stolid as ever, did little to discourage such a portrait.
For those eager to relive those days, Bernanke's memoir is certain to be added to the already thick pile of recollections about that most critical moment in economic history.
But such a discussion would have been all-too-serious for a late-night crowd, and Colbert would have none of that.
Embracing the role of satirist that made him famous on Viacom (VIAB - Get Report) -owned Comedy Central show The Colbert Report, the successor to David Letterman did his best Elton John impersonation by singing, "B-B-B-Benny and the Fed!" And the crowd went wild, sort of.
The needling went further when the ex-Fed head compared his own composure under duress to that of the Buddha. "How do you keep your poker face when the world is crumbling?" Colbert asked him.
"I'm not going to tell you," Bernanke responded, stone-faced, winning a laugh from the crowd.
The conversation drifted back to the serious as Bernanke averred that it was "out of his power" to save Lehman Brothers, the first major financial firm to go under during the 2008 crisis, even though the federal government was able to bail out so many others, including Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) and mortgage lenders Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC) . Colbert pressed him on the point, confused for a moment about the nature and extent of his powers.
All told, the interview may not have provoked the usual gushers of laughter and applause, especially compared to Colbert's first guest of the evening, the lovely and delightful CW actress Gina Rodriguez.
By comparison, quantitative easing, the Great Recession and the parlor game of interest rate forecasting are probably best left out of late night talk shows.
Nonetheless, one has to wonder whether there was something else circulating in the air of the Ed Sullivan Theater.
Bernanke might have been asked whether the unregulated, mostly boys club of Wall Street deserved all the taxpayer money it received in and after 2008. It's going to take a few more books to dissociate Bernanke from all that negative sentiment.
Maybe he'll do Fallon next.