While Stephen Colbert appears cool as a cucumber on camera, the Late Show host explains that he traversed a rocky road to get to that point. Colbert tells The Rolling Stone that when he was younger he needed to be medicated for his anxiety, and after his 1993 wedding to wife Evelyn, he had a "nervous breakdown."
"I was actually medicated," he says. "I mean, in the most common, prosaic way. Xanax was just lovely. Y’know, for a while. And then I realized that the gears were still smoking. I just couldn’t hear them anymore. But I could feel them, I could feel the gearbox heating up and smoke pouring out of me, but I was no longer walking around a couch."
He continued: "I had a bit of a nervous breakdown after I got married -- kind of panic attacks," he continues. "My wife would go off to work and she’d come home -- because I worked at night -- and I’d be walking around the couch. And she’s like, 'How was your day?' And I’d say, 'You’re looking at it.' Just tight circles around the couch."
While most non-anxious people break into a sweat even thinking about performing for an audience, for Colbert, it was the only thing that relaxed him.
"I would go to the show, and I would curl up in a ball on the couch backstage and I would wait to hear my cue lines," he remembers. "Then I would uncurl and go onstage and I’d feel fine. Which occurred to me at the time: Like, 'Oh, you feel fine when you’re out here.' And then as soon as I got offstage, I’d just crumble into a ball again. Nobody ever asked me what was wrong! It went on for months."
He said he stopped taking Xanax after deciding it wasn’t working, despite occasional misgivings. "I’d sometimes hold the bottle, to go like, 'I could stop this feeling if I wanted, but I’m not going to. Because I know if I stop the feeling, somehow I’m not working through it, like I have got to go through the tunnel with the spiders in it.' And then one morning I woke up and my skin wasn’t on fire, and it took me a while to figure out what it was. I wake up the next morning, I’m perfectly fine, to the point where my body’s still humming. I’m a bell that’s been rung so hard that I can still feel myself vibrating. But the actual sound was gone because I was starting rehearsal that day to create a new show. And then I went, 'Oh, my God, I can never stop performing.'"