NEW YORK — Stephen Colbert looked out upon a sold out house, flashed his familiar comic grin, and then began the serious (and funny) business he was there for. Reading a story by Flannery O’Connor.

The former Comedy Central host and heir apparent to David Letterman on “The Late Show” was among two guests last week for the celebrated “Selected Shorts” program at Manhattan’s Symphony Space. Established 30 years ago, Selected Shorts has featured such well known readers as Meryl Streep and Jane Fonda reading notable works of literature.

O’Connor was the night’s honored author and Colbert, like O’Connor a Southerner and a Catholic, chose “The Enduring Chill.”

O’Connor, who died 1964, was a Georgia native known for her sharp social commentary and deep Catholic faith. “The Enduring Chill” tells of an ailing young man with artistic aspirations who returns home in despair from New York to his family’s farm and his narrow-minded, smothering mother. O’Connor, who lived briefly in New York as a young woman, suffered from lupus for much of her adult life and died at age 39.

Clearly at home with the humor and pathos of O’Connor’s story, Colbert at times sounded as if he were reading an especially juicy bit of satire in his old job, like when the son happily observes that his illness might mean his mother, “at the age sixty, was going to be introduced to reality.”

Colbert, a former resident of Charleston, read for nearly an hour and received loud applause upon completion. He also looked more like a literary figure than a comedian, wearing a blazer and slacks and no tie and the white beard he has favored lately.