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NEW YORK (CBSMiami) – After graduating from Northwestern University in 1986, Stephen Colbert soon joined Chicago’s Second City Comedy Troupe at the encouragement of his former college roommate and friend Anne Libera, who is now Second City’s director of comedy studies.

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“Stephen was waiting tables at Blind Faith and making futon frames in our basement. He was a carpenter,” said Libera. “This was 1987 and I was still working for Second City and I said, ‘Why don’t you come with me you’ll make a lot more money than you’re making futon frames.’”

She was certainly right about that, but Colbert’s road to success was not a short one. He traveled with the troupe for years honing his skills and eventually making lifelong friendships with guys like Jon Stewart and Steve Carrell.

Andrew Alexander started with Second City in 1985 and eventually bought it with a partner. Alexander says Colbert was the right fit from the very beginning.

“He was a real ensemble player. He was one of those people that really supported his fellow actor so it wasn’t like he sort of stood out beyond anybody else. He brought his intelligence and quirkiness to everything he did. I think that the thing I remember about him the most is that he is a true ensemble player,” Alexander said.

Colbert grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, the youngest of 11 children. In 1974, he suffered a family tragedy. It was, and still is, his faith that got him through it

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“He’s a true mensch. He is a great family man you know he’s had a lot of tragedy in his life. He lost his father, his brother and he’s a man of great faith. He’s a practicing catholic. He’s got strong values and he’s a solid guy. He’s a real solid citizen and a terrific human being,” Alexander said.

Both Libera and Alexander say Colbert’s eventual nine-year run as a starchy, blustery right-wing host  on his hit TV show the ‘Colbert Report’  was a tribute to his freshness and wit. The show was instantly Comedy Central’s highest rated, shows bringing in over a million viewers per episode in its first week.

“He’s the guy you want to listen to. He’s the guy you want to watch. He’s always going for the next thing. He’s always trying to be better and be more.”

Now with his new late night gig on CBS, these two former colleagues, but forever friends say they know Stephen Colbert will deliver the laughs.

“Stephen brings a depth of purpose and a willingness to break the rules and explore  And to play with his audience. He improvises not just with the people he’s on stage with but also with everybody who’s in the audience which is going to make his show something that you are going to want to see,” Libera said.

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“He’s just a breath of fresh air” said Alexander.

Lisa Petrillo