VANCOUVER, British Columbia — On a makeshift stage 100 feet from Vancouver's False Creek (which isn't really a creek) and a mile from Granville Island (which isn't really an island) stepped Stephen Colbert, a man who has turned making a mockery of things into a major Olympic snort.
"We love you, Dave Letterman!" shouted a wise guy as Colbert prepared to start the show.
Irreverence was the rule, not the exception, Wednesday morning in the first of two giant outdoor shows Colbert is taping here in Vancouver. It was a rock-star moment for the popular comedian, who has goaded Canadians over the Olympics and even spoofed the Games on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
"Ice holes," he calls them. And the more he pretends to dislike them, the more they cheer.
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"Where's Gretzky?" someone yelled as Colbert began to warm up the crowd.
"Doesn't he live in L.A.?" Colbert fired back, drawing groans and laughter.
As with so many events here, Wednesday's love-in began early. Fans started lining up at 1 a.m. for a show that didn't start until almost 10:30 a.m., more than an hour after it was scheduled.
Estimates of the crowd ranged up to 15,000, in the park setting about a mile from one of the hockey arenas. It was the first completely sunny day after a week of rain — a sloppy, gloppy comedy Woodstock.
"Thank you. Please sit down," Colbert told the crowd.
The 90-minute "Colbert Report" taping was a bare-bones operation. Black pop-up tents served as makeup stations and a green room. The stage was a truck bed decorated with cheap plastic snowmen, skis and a giant moose prop, which would come into play later, of course.
Behind the stage, sheets of plywood provided footing in the muddy conditions, which got worse as the morning wore on. Between segments, a snow machine fired flurries across the stage.
And the whole time Colbert, in trademark helmet hair and faux seriousness, bantered with the crowd as if he did such giant touring shows every day, even stopping several times to calmly sign autographs for fans who ringed the stage.
Canadian singer Michael Buble was the first of three guests. In a bit that shouldn't have worked but did, he and Colbert teamed up for a duet.
"You're a Grammy winner and I'm a Grammy winner," Colbert said. "Why don't we finish up with a song?
"We'll sing the lyrics to 'O, Canada' to the tune of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' "
It killed — and the crowd roared.
Of course, Colbert could've come out and read Canadian zoning laws and Wednesday's crowd would've filled the air with cheers.
"Hey, Michael, thanks for putting up with my stupidity," Colbert told the singer backstage after his appearance.
"My next guest was the captain of the 1980 'Miracle on Ice' hockey team," he says while introducing Mike Eruzione. "Now he's in Vancouver for the 'Miracle on Mud.' "
"Have you ever had to pay for one beer?" Colbert asked as Eruzione settled in.
Colbert was "on," even on a truck-bed stage in mid-40s temperatures. It was sunny, sure, but a north wind blew across the city, chilling the stage. At one point, the U.S. flag toppled over and a stagehand rushed to grab it.
During the Eruzione segment, he asked: "If the 1980 game were today, and Al Michaels were twittering, would it be called the 'OMG on Ice'?"
Finally, NBC sportscaster Bob Costas came aboard, in more than one way.
"Ride the moose! Ride the moose!" the crowd chanted, and after his brief interview, the anchor complied, climbing atop the unsteady stage prop as the crowd cheered him on.
"Ride the moose! Ride the moose!"
Afterward, putting his shtick aside," the comedy show host addressed Colbert Nation.
"This was a welcome we would not have imagined in our wildest dreams," Colbert said with rare sincerity. "I want to take back everything I ever said about Canada."
That might not happen right away, though. The comedian is due back Thursday morning for another round of Olympic mischief. And the mostly Canadian crowd can't seem to get enough.
Lots of people here in Vancouver have taken off for the Olympics, and the colleges are closed for two weeks.
Everyone else, apparently, is playing hooky. At least they were on Wednesday.
"My face hurts" from laughing, says Christina Primus of North Vancouver as she files out of the park. "I'm definitely coming back tomorrow. And I'm bringing my boots."