Who is the real Stephen Colbert? For a man who had a TV show for 10 years that bore his name, we surprisingly don’t really know. That was of course thanks to his brilliantly developed character of an uber conservative to counter the more straightforward Jon Stewart when the two were paired back-to-back on Comedy Central. But after ‘The Colbert Report’ signed off last December as Colbert prepared to take over for Dave Letterman on CBS’ ‘The Late Show,’ fans have eagerly awaited an answer to the question, just who is the real Stephen Colbert? We got our first look Tuesday night.
The festivities began with a cold open that saw Colbert sing the national anthem with a bunch of civilians across the country, and finishing with a cameo from his long time friend and peer Jon Stewart. It was kind of a nice throw back to ‘The Colbert Report’ and what helped Colbert achieve his new gig on CBS.
Then with a jolt in his step, Colbert burst out onto the newly redesigned Ed Sullivan Theater stage, dancing along with his band leader Jon Batiste. It was strange to see Colbert upright and delivering jokes about pop culture, but he had some hits, including an Ashley Madison joke and a joke featuring CBS head Les Moonves dangling a switch between ‘Late Show’ and reruns of ‘The Mentalist.’
Still, Colbert was at his best in familiar territory, both on topic and in location. After a gorgeous animated title sequence, Colbert took residence behind his new desk and started rolling out the jokes on the presidential election, including a great bit with how Donald Trump relates to junk food. It was almost identical to something we would have seen on ‘Colbert Report,’ but without the character.
This is going to be the most interesting thing to watch in the first few weeks of Colbert’s run – will he stick with his ‘Colbert Report’ routine or go in a different direction? Few would begrudge him to stick with what got him here, and it would be something different than the other major network late night hosts, but it would also be cool to see him explore new territory. Time will tell.
One thing that was new was how he handled his guests. He no longer had to be ignorant and purposefully combatant with his guests, he and George Clooney could just shoot the shit and play around. It’s hard to say that he has as good of chemistry with his guests as Jimmy Fallon does – who also made a cameo earlier in the show – but it was obvious he and Clooney were both enjoying themselves immensely. One can expect that he’ll only get better with interviewing celebrities.
His interview with Jeb Bush, however, was the perfect example of what will make him stand out among his competitors. He immediately got into the merits of why Jeb Bush wants to be president, and he didn’t necessarily hold back. He asked him real questions about politics and admitted to some of his general oppositions. He didn’t attack Bush, but he tried to force Bush to answer real questions about his campaign, and how he is different than his brother, former president George W. Bush. With a number of political guests lined up in the coming weeks, Colbert could use his show for a greater purpose than simply promoting the newest movie or music stars.
When Fallon started out on ‘The Tonight Show’ many immediately dubbed him the new king of late night. It is unlikely Colbert will earn such claims this early, but he certainly has something, it will just take a little getting used to from audiences, and a little growing into on the part of Colbert as he searches for that sweet spot. There might have been a few tiny bumps, but it was a promising start to a new era of ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.’