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A brief history of Stephen Colbert's friendly 'feud' with billionaire Richard Branson

richard branson holds photo of stephen colbert
Richard Branson holds up a photo of comedian Stephen Colbert that he brought with him into space, during a press conference after the flight, July 11, 2021.
Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images

On Sunday, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson brought a tiny headshot of late-night host Stephen Colbert with him into space, marking a high point for the long-running frenemies.

"I brought up this head," Branson told reporters, showing them the photo after landing safely back on Earth. "Anybody recognize that head? Stephen Colbert."

During the livestream of Virgin Galactic's launch, which Colbert hosted, the comedian heaped accolades and congratulations onto the company's inaugural crewed flight into space, though not without cracking a few jokes about Branson's goatee and hair. He also played with a model of the spaceplane, the VSS Unity, while making airplane sounds.

 

Previously, Colbert has been a little less fawning over Branson on his former show, the "The Colbert Report," where the pair often turned to physical comedy, gags, and challenges.

On the show, Colbert referred to Branson as an "adult of the corn," "Sir big baby," "the grinning goat man," and "a cross between David Bowie and Pan the goat god." They have also alternately splashed each other with mugs of water and sprayed each other with fire extinguishers on the late-night show. 

Branson has made multiple appearances on Colbert's shows, with one being in 2007 to plug his newly formed airline, Virgin America. During one interview, Colbert tried to get Branson to write him an IOU for a $1 million to prove he was a "rebel billionaire," but Branson demurred. Branson joked that he had named one of his planes the "Air Colbert" and doused Colbert with a mug of water, after he felt that Colbert hadn't done enough to promote his airline. Colbert sought ammunition of his own from a crew member and splashed Branson with a water bottle, with the interview ending with both men laughing. 

When Branson appeared on "The Colbert Report" again in 2011 to promote his book, Branson came armed with a fire extinguisher and sprayed Colbert with white foam at the end of the show after saying that the audience hadn't liked that night's show enough.

During a 2014 appearance, he also talked about vacationing with Barack Obama on his private island in the British Virgin Islands, his then-burgeoning space tourism company and the race between Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX.

 

But the hijinks returned in his most recent appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" in 2017, where Branson briefly unbuckled his belt, turned around so his back was facing the audience, and pulled down his pants to show off a swimsuit made out of recycled plastics.

Watching Branson's journey to space on Sunday during the livestream, Colbert voiced an interest in joining and a sincere observation of what the experience must be like.

"I imagine it must be an emotional and life-changing moment to experience zero G and see our fragile planet floating in the depths of space," Colbert said. "I would go up in a minute — if my wife would let me."

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