By Alynda Wheat
Updated October 05, 2007 04:00 AM

Stephen Colbert is a lovely fellow, or so we’ve heard tell. ”Stephen Colbert,” his blowhard right-wing Comedy Central alter ego, is Hilarious — in 30-minute stretches. But imagine being stuck on a plane with that guy, or in a doctor’s office, or (God forbid) in the bathroom. If that sounds good, you’ve probably already preordered I Am America (And So Can You!), and are even now plotting some sort of coup to install the Colbert Nation.

The rest of us — casual viewers of The Colbert Report, let’s say — are less equipped to handle so much ”truth.” Granted, ”Colbert’s” opus feels familiar. Anyone who thumbed through America from the Daily Show team in 2004 is well hip to the fake-textbook format. However, given his rampant megalomania (see: title), ”Colbert” can’t help ”impregnat[ing] this country with [his] mind” to write an unholy hybrid that’s part civics, part autobiography, part messianic recruitment tract. Witness chapter 1, ”The Family,” by which he means the ”Colbert” family, and how we can be more like them. Or chapter 4, ”Religion,” in which ”Stephen” exhorts all of us — Jews, gentiles, atheists, and Scientologists — to jump on the ”Jesus Train.” The contortions, twists, and sidesteps the deeply closeted ideologue takes to squeak through the fantastic seventh chapter (”Homosexuals”) could land him on So You Think You Can Dance.

But does it all work? Mostly. ”Colbert” crams an awful lot into I Am America, so much that it sometimes feels forced. Do we need the glossary, quippy marginalia (”Girl babies, drop that teat”), common-man essays, and stickers (one page of notes like ”It’s Morning in Colbert-ica,” another of shiny silver medallions). Probably not, but we do like the stickers and marginalia. The point is, you can carry a joke, an alter ego, or a meta-book only so far. ”Stephen Colbert” couldn’t possibly live up to his hype for 230 pages. But we bet that if Stephen Colbert decided to write a book, he could. B