Stephen Colbert Pays Tribute To His “Unlikely” Friend Toby Keith: “Toby Taught Me Not To Judge People Too Quickly”

Stephen Colbert Toby Keith
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Toby Keith and Stephen Colbert may seem like unlikely friends.

But the liberal late-night show host and the man who popularized patriotic country music in the wake of the 9/11 terrorists attacks actually hit it off and become close friends.

Toby of course passed away on February 5 after a 2-year battle with stomach cancer.

And after his death was announced early yesterday, Colbert took some time on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to pay tribute to his friend and share some of the lessons he learned from his time with Toby over the years.

Colbert admitted that their friendship may have seemed improbable:

“I was shocked and saddened when I saw the news this morning. I knew Toby was ill. He’d been fighting stomach cancer for some time, but I still had hope that we’d see each other again, and that we would hear him on this stage. Because I was lucky enough to become friends with Toby over the years, as improbable as that seems.”

Colbert says that he first met Toby when he was a guest on his Comedy Central show The Colbert Report, and admitted that at the time he sometimes “had knives out” for some of his guests.

He says that he had some plan for dealing with Toby, related to his hit “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” But then he decided to give the country star a chance and try to just get to know him instead:

“Right before I went on stage I remember vividly looking down at my shoes and saying, ‘What are you doing? You’re a host. He’s your guest. Make him feel welcome. See who he is.’

And what do you know? We hit it off like a house of fire. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed talking to Toby Keith.”

And apparently Toby enjoyed it too, because he had a hilarious compliment for Colbert after the show:

“Hey man, you do a great job. Whatever the f*ck it is you do.”

Colbert says he took that as “the greatest compliment,” and his staff even had that quote from Toby stitched on a pillow that still sits in his office to this day.

And he says that his encounter with Toby taught him a lesson about judging people before you meet them:

“That day, Toby taught me not to pre-judge a guest. And to have my intention, but to keep my eyes open to the reality of who they are. And for that lesson, and for a lot of other things, I’m always going to be grateful.”

After their first meeting, Toby and Colbert struck up an unlikely friendship, with Colbert even performing “As Good As I Once Was” at Toby’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, a moment that Colbert calls one of his greatest honors.

“I think he enjoyed how unlikely a pair we seemed. I sure did. You know like people are excited when a duck and a horse are friends? Well for the record I was the duck.

But Toby was always surprising people. You would think you know who Toby Keith was, and then you’re watching Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech and there’s Toby Keith giving him a standing ovation.

Toby, what are you doing this time?

Toby taught me not to judge people too quickly. And with his passing, I’m going to try to remember that again. It’s something we all need to remember. Because I’m sure Toby and I disagreed about many things, as so many Americans do these days. More and more of us are angrier and angrier with each other. 

But tonight, I will issue this invitation to anybody: I do not care who you are. I will meet you at this place. I will meet you at being brokenhearted that Toby Keith is gone.

Thank you, Big Dog.”

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock