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Davis Guggenheim vs. Stephen Colbert

Every guest who hawks a book or movie on the "The Colbert Report" is apt to turn into a foil for the brilliantly ironic Colbert and his aggressive know-nothing persona.

But during Colbert's interview last night with Davis Guggenheim, director of "Waiting for 'Superman'," a must-see documentary about American public education, a funny thing happened on the way to the commercial break.

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Colbert became a happy foil for Guggenheim.

The sad yet hilarious opening clip, mixing archival footage with animation, demonstrated American students' under-education and over-confidence with a shot of a young motorcyclist crash-landing after attempting an outrageous stunt.

When Colbert quipped that this kid had just learned a lot about gravity, he immediately set a tone that was in synch with the rueful aspects of the movie.

More important, Guggenheim's own point-of-view is so complex that he was at ease with every question that Colbert threw at him.

Guggenheim abjures political orthodoxy from the left or right, and admits in his own movie that he is part of the problem -- although he believes good public schools are an essential part of the American Dream, he sends his kids to private school.

So Colbert's "I take care of my own" comic bluster didn't fluster him. For Guggenheim it was been-there, done-that.

By the time Colbert asked whether we could improve the system by betting on the success or failure of individual schoolchildren, it was as if he was lobbing the director a softball. The ruling metaphor of "Waiting for 'Superman'" is that we've turned the prospect of getting a good education into a lottery.

Colbert was still uproarious, referring to himself as a "Mama Grizzly" and voicing his admiration for Guggenheim's use of fear in "An Inconvenient Truth." But in this interview, as in the one with Guillermo del Toro last week, Colbert strengthened his show by allowing a guest to dominate the conversation.

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Were you planning on seeing "Waiting for 'Superman'" anyway? Did this session make you more likely to go this weekend? And -- just wondering -- how many of you caught Guggenheim's great salute to rock guitarists, "It Might Get Loud?"

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