NEW YORK - Stephen Colbert has announced his candidacy for president on "The Colbert Report," tossing his satirical hat into the ring of an already crowded race.
"I shall seek the office of the president of the United States," Colbert said Tuesday on his Comedy Central show as red, white and blue balloons fell around him.
Colbert, 43, had recently satirized the coyness of would-be presidential candidates by refusing to disclose whether he would seek the country's highest office - a refusal that often came without any prompting.
Shortly before making the announcement, Colbert appeared on "The Daily Show" (the show that spawned Colbert's spin-off) and played cagey, claiming he was only ready to consider a White House bid. He entered the studio set pulled by a bicycle pedaled by Uncle Sam and quickly pulled out a bale of hay and a bottle of beer to show that he was "an Average Joe."
Colbert said his final decision would be announced on a "more prestigious show," which turned out to be his own.
"After nearly 15 minutes of soul-searching, I have heard the call," said Colbert.
His recent best-seller, "I Am America (And So Can You!)," allowed him to mock the now-standard approach to a White House run, complete with a high-profile book tour.
Colbert said he planned to run in South Carolina, "and South Carolina alone." The state, one of the key early primaries, is also Colbert's native state. Earlier this week, South Carolina public television station ETV invited Colbert to announce his candidacy on its air.
Exactly how far the mock conservative pundit planned to stretch his impression of a presidential candidate wasn't clear. Colbert rarely breaks character on camera, including at his memorable speech at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner last year.
The Comedy Central host has often mobilized his fans ("Colbert Nation"), encouraging them to vote to have a Hungarian bridge named after him, for example, or to vandalize Web site Wikipedia.com with his version of "truthiness" and "wikiality."
Colbert said he would run as both a Democrat and Republican. He earlier explained the strategy: "I can lose twice." He claimed three running mate possibilities: Colbert-Huckabee, Colbert-Putin or Colbert-Colbert.
Minutes after announcing his presidential pursuit, Colbert welcomed CBS political analyst Jeff Greenfield to ask how he had changed the race.
"This is going to be one for the books," said Greenfield.
A spokesman for Colbert said he would be unavailable for further comment Tuesday evening.
In a guest column for Maureen Dowd in Sunday's New York Times, Colbert wrote: "I am not ready to announce yet - even though it's clear that the voters are desperate for a white, male, middle-aged, Jesus-trumpeting alternative."