As a high school student at The Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, Late Show host Stephen Colbert briefly fronted a Rolling Stones cover band. In a rare interview on the subject, Colbert told Howard Stern: “We were called A Shot in the Dark. We called ourselves A Shit in the Dark ’cause we sucked so badly. I wore very tight jeans, which I could do at the time, and I wore my brother Peter’s soccer jersey. And his number was Zero.”
Colbert was joined in the band by schoolmates Edward Hart, Glenn Horres and Joe Frank Garner. Here is their story:
Edward Hart, composer; chair of the department of music at the College of Charleston: A Shot in the Dark. It sounds like a bad late-1970s, early 1980s kind of a name. I don’t know who actually came up with it.
Glenn Horres, child and adolescent psychiatrist in Charleston, South Carolina: It was probably Stephen’s idea. We were sitting around the house tossing around a bunch of names. Finally, it came down to, “Look, if we pull this off it’s gonna be a shot in the dark.”
Hart: We all sang in the Glee Club, so maybe that put us in the same room at the same time.
Joe Frank Garner, creative leisure expert at the Wild Dunes Bike Shop, Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina: I wasn’t in the Glee Club. I knew that they practiced a lot, and they did it after school, so I didn’t want anything to do with it.
Horres: I was probably 14 or 15; that would make Stephen about 16. Edward, Joe Frank and I were all the same age.
Hart: It was a bunch of high school kids with too much free time, basically. We ended up in the living room of our friend Glenn, and I guess we had enough instruments between us to make a band and we just did it.
Horres: I think I had the only real guitar.
Garner: Glenn broke strings playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”; he was pretty rough on his guitar.
Hart: I played keyboard and sang.
Horres: Edward had some cheesy little Casio keyboard. The bass was the cheapest you could buy.
Garner: I was the only guy that had a drum set, so I was the drummer. Of everyone in the band, I was the least talented. I just remember getting yelled at a lot.
Horres: We picked Stephen as the singer, ’cause he did a really good Mick Jagger. And it just sorta made sense — he was the only guy who had big enough balls to do it.
Hart: Stephen is very musical; he’s got a really great ear. And I can say that now as a music professor. He has a good voice. Even then, he was immediately likeable and had charisma.
Horres: We practiced at my mom’s house ’cause you could walk there from school.
Garner: I don’t ever remember seeing Glenn’s parents there while we were there. I guess they locked themselves in the bedroom and hid from us, or just decided to leave town while we were practicing ’cause they didn’t want to hear the noise. We lived in a pretty conventional neighborhood: upper middle class, wealthy-ish, two-story brick homes, beautiful yards, the Mercedes and the BMWs in the driveways.
Horres: Our first — and maybe only — show was for the Porter-Gaud school carnival.
Garner: According to everyone else in town, when you said you went to Porter-Gaud, you were automatically a snob. To this day when someone asks me where I went to high school and I say Porter-Gaud, they always go, “Oooo, Gaud!” in this sarcastic, snobby way.
Horres: The year before, some seniors had played the carnival and they were incredibly good. So as the date approached, we decided we better put something together.
Hart: We probably rehearsed eight or ten times. Not nearly enough.
Horres: This was gonna be a typical school carnival, mostly for the little kids.
Garner: The auditorium sat around 400 people, 450 maybe.
Horres: I don’t know how many people were there, maybe 50.
Hart: We had never played through a P.A. before, so it was awesome.
Horres: We were terrible. What’s worse than five high school kids playing instruments all at the wrong time, in four different keys?
Garner: The drum kit wasn’t tuned; the guitar was out of tune, and I’m sure we had some drinks. I know I did. This was the last period in my life where you could go out underaged and drink until a cop would show up, and be like, “Look, y’all need to turn the music down,” knowing full well that everyone was underage with a beer in their hand. So you throw in some pot and alcohol, and it only made us think we sounded better than we were.
Hart: We were awful. It would be the equivalent of biting into a jelly-filled doughnut, but it actually being filled with wasabi. It would’ve been that bad. Negative three, on a scale from one-to-ten.
Horres: I might give it a one. Maybe a two. Yeah, I’d give it a two.
Garner: I would say a definite one. Surely you’ve been somewhere before, and some band takes the stage and you’re like, “Oh, there’s live music tonight,” and then they start playing, and you’re like, “Oh God, these guys are horrible!” That was us. I would say Stephen Colbert was fantastic. And we sucked.
Hart: I have a doctorate in music composition, so maybe I’m being a little hard on us. I’m sure it was loud and sounded something like rock ’n’ roll. Nobody ever threw anything at us that I can recall.
Garner: We thought it was the greatest thing in the world, but not a whole lot of other people did. The crowd was sarcastically excited, if that makes any sense. I don’t think anyone yelled “Free Bird,” but they were probably thinking about it.
Hart: I’m sure the crowd made noise of some sort. It was a spectacle, I’m certain of it, but I don’t know that it was exactly like the Beatles reuniting.
Horres: I know we looked terrible. I was wearing corduroy pants; you couldn’t wear jeans to school. I had some kind of nasty late 1970s T-shirt with three-quarter length sleeves.
Hart: We defined “square.” If you could have something that was even more of a right angle than a right angle, that’s what we would have been — we would have formed the perfect square.
Garner: For Stephen, we found him an old junior varsity soccer jersey. We put that on him to try to make him look like Mick Jagger. It didn’t exactly work.
Hart: We had an opening band, which is sinful, because we were terrible, and they must have been really terrible if they were opening for us. It was a punk band, which was kind of an interesting phenomenon in early 1980s Charleston.
Garner: I don’t remember the punk band. I was probably going through that I’m-too-cool thing: “I don’t have time to watch these kids. I’m the star of the big band.”
Horres: We only knew a half-dozen songs. We did “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Brown Sugar,” “Sympathy for the Devil” and probably “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” I was so nervous playing, I don’t remember. Almost-couldn’t-stand-up nervous. All I could focus on was the neck of that guitar and making sure I played the chords right.
Garner: We played “Sympathy for the Devil,” and it was the longest song in the world. I actually got up and walked away from my drum kit in the middle of that song and walked backstage, ’cause I was just like, “I can’t play it, I suck.”
Hart: We may have done “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon as well.
Horres: We probably did, because that was one of the songs we knew at the time because it only had three little chords in it.
Garner: It was easy to play; that’s how we picked most of our songs.
Hart: We did a couple of songs with a female vocalist, but she really wasn’t part of the band. We let her sing a couple because she owned the P.A. They were Pat Benatar songs.
Horres: We did “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
Garner: She might’ve done Stevie Nicks, too. She and Stephen might have done “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” as a duet. All in all, we had fun doing it; we didn’t care how we sounded.
Hart: We were there to get attention — that’s on the mind of every teenage boy. We all had Y chromosomes, and they seemed to be in fairly good working order. So that was part of it — girls. Sadly, however, I don’t remember crowds of girls flocking backstage for us.
Horres: I woulda played and played and played, but we never got enough gigs. I think we played a couple more times at parties.
Garner: I wanna say we played two school functions and that was it. That’s the whole mystery surrounding A Shot in the Dark — we don’t really remember it. It was so long ago, and there’s no real photographic evidence of all of us in one room together.
Hart: We might have played a party or two, but I don’t think we ever got paid. We had a great time, though. I recommend it for any teenager.
Garner: The cool part is now I get to say, “Yeah man, I was in a band with Stephen Colbert in high school!” Nobody believes me, but hey, it’s true. Especially because I quickly sold my drum kit.
Horres: And I don’t think Stephen has changed a bit. If you can imagine Stephen Colbert pretending to be Mick Jagger today, that’s what you had back then. Maybe a little less refined. I’m surprised he’s mentioned it. When I saw it on Wikipedia a couple years ago, I thought, “Well, now we are famous.”
Hart: Stephen enjoyed it. He was probably as effective as one could be with the kind of band we had.
Horres: Edward and I went on to play together for 10-somethin’ years after that carnival. We were in a ’80s cover band that was called Velveeeta — it had a third “e” for copyright reasons. At least that’s what we told everybody.
Steve Bean Levy writes comedy for MEL, and has done likewise for Tim Conway, Keegan Michael Key, Greg Benson, Comic Relief, and shows for CBS, FOX and ABC.