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Craig Melvin reveals how Stephen Colbert once gave him an important pep talk

"I would not be in this seat, arguably, had it not been for a chance encounter with Stephen Colbert," Craig said.
/ Source: TODAY

A chance encounter for a nervous Craig Melvin turned into a pep talk he needed back in 2008 when he was on his way to an interview in New York City for a television job.

Craig shared on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" Tuesday night how he happened to be seated next to Colbert on a flight out of Columbia, South Carolina, and received some words of encouragement from his fellow South Carolina native ahead of a crucial juncture in his career.

"I would not be in this seat, arguably, had it not been for a chance encounter with Stephen Colbert," Craig said.

Craig was working for NBC affiliate WIS-TV in Columbia at the time, while Colbert was hosting his show "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central after having starred on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart.

"So I'm on the plane, I could not be more nervous about my job interview in the big city," Craig said. "And this guy gets on with like three or four other people, flurry of activity, and he sits in the chair right next to me. I look over and I'm like, 'Oh my God, it's the guy from Jon Stewart's show.'"

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Craig hesitated at first to engage in a conversation with Colbert.

"And I'm like 'I don't want to be that guy because no one wants to be that guy,'" he said. "And you said something to me — you could not have been kinder — you're like, 'Hey where are you going?'

"And at that point I just needed someone to talk to. So I proceed to talk about the job and how nervous I am and this guy, total stranger, proceeds to talk about his best-selling book that's on The New York Times list, but after that you proceeded to tell me your story and you talked about, I'll never forget as long as I live, you talked about how tragedy early in your life shaped who you would become and how you found comedy."

Colbert, who is the youngest of 11 children, lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash when he was only 10 years old. He also described to Craig how he and his wife "struggled mightily" before he got the call that he got the job with "The Daily Show."

"And I remember in that moment thinking, if this guy can do it, if this guy can make it..." Craig said as the audience laughed. "It was the pep talk that the kid from Columbia, South Carolina, desperately needed."

Craig ended up landing a job at NBC's affiliate in Washington, D.C., in 2008 before becoming a daytime anchor at MSNBC three years later.

Craig also spoke with Colbert about his new book, "Pops: Learning to be a Son and a Father,” in which he details his relationship with his father, who has struggled with gambling and alcohol addiction for much of his life.

The family staged an intervention three years ago when Lawrence Melvin was 67, resulting in him going to a 12-week rehabilitation facility. He has gotten sober and is now a loving grandfather to Craig's two children.

"He is making up for lost time," Craig said.