“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”: Three Takes

Jeb!

Last night marked the beginning of Stephen Colbert‘s reign as host of The Late Show—and despite his being a constant presence on our screens since his Daily Show debut in 1997 (two years before Jon Stewart took over the anchor’s chair), it was effectively the debut of Stephen Colbert, Actual Person. Getting to spend an hour with the genuine article would’ve made for an interesting enough one-off special; last night’s episode gave us a glimpse of what to expect from late night’s newest heavyweight. We asked three of our writers to reflect on what the future holds for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.


“We’ll always have something to talk about—we’re famous,” Stephen Colbert said to the uber-famous George Clooney last night, and followed it with an improvised slice of silence for the ages. Craig Ferguson would have played this awkward pause as a predestined point dragged out too long; Conan O’Brien would’ve gleefully inverted it into an arrow of self-deprecation. Jimmy Fallon would’ve giggled three seconds in. Colbert grabbed the gag by the barrel and aimed it at celebrity itself, blowing a bulls-eye into the concept that the recognizable have anything more valuable to say than anyone else—a bold assertion for a talk show host to make and a strong indication that his show will be about something other than whatever the guests are there to shill.  

In the same populist way he, for once, did not inject a strong political persona, his own (see: White House Correspondents’ Dinner) or his character’s (see: The Colbert Report) into the conversation with Jeb! Instead, he called for the balm of bipartisan civility.

For fans only familiar with the masquerade of his faux right wing blowhard, Colbert wasn’t quite himself as the first post-Letterman host of The Late Show, but for those ready to let him shed that long-running ruse, he was maybe something even better. He was more like us. — Jeffrey Roedel

The talk during the lead-up to last night’s premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was that we shouldn’t expect to see “Stephen Colbert,” that we’d finally meet the real Colbert and be treated to his great wit, his candor, and his moral clarity. Episode one gave us no reason to doubt that the real Colbert can be just as incisive as his satirical twin; he smuggled a cutting question about the differences between Bushes George and Jeb in through a fantastically convoluted setup, then refused to let Jeb weasel out of talking about the actual, policy-based differences between he and his brother.

But we also learned that the real Colbert can be just as absurd and surreal as his counterpart. Last night’s #sponsored segment for Sabra hummus, in which Colbert pledged his allegiance to an ancient cursed amulet that then unleashed a satanic drone that could only be abated by the host pitching for Sabra, would have been risky enough without the hummus (Fallon isn’t making jokes about Mesopotamian anti-deities, and if he does, he’s not doing it with that much conviction.). That he managed to convince a national supermarket brand to play along—and that the entire joke ended up being self-aware commentary on the soul-sucking nature of branded content in the first place—made it one of the night’s better moments. — Marty Sartini Garner

We were all a little bit nervous. We’d come to love and trust Stephen Colbert as the over-the-top fictional soul mate to Jon Stewart’s ever-frustrated “straight man.” What would it be like seeing the bespectacled comedian without Stewart’s patented Daily Show lead in? Where would those witty and biting remarks about the state of our union, wrapped in ridiculous premises go? Was he going to have to start doing those awkward middle-of-the-road monologues that we saw David Lynch and Louis C.K. practicing? Last night’s premiere episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert washed away our fears and replaced them with the exciting thoughts about something actually new in the late night game.

Yes, Colbert did have to oblige the talk show gods and muscle through a run-of-the-mill monologue, but right after that, Late Show blossomed into a strange and a cognizant program that highlighted the new host’s quick wit (his segment with Jeb Bush), zany humor (the Oreo/Trump bit), and kindness (the sweet cold open rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with a cameo by Stewart). The melting pot of Colbert’s talents most brilliantly came together within his chat with everyone’s favorite celebrity, George Clooney.

Clooney was Colbert’s first guest ever, despite not knowing the new Late Show host and having no project to push. Instead of running through generic stories about life on set or Clooney’s famous friends, Colbert repeatedly, and intentionally, brought up the fact that he didn’t actually know the actor—to the point of getting him a Tiffany & Co. paper weight that had been engraved with the beautiful phrase “I don’t know you.” Both men were game to be awkward, silly, and weird. They trusted each other and, in turn, they made us comfortable to watch a show that had no “point.” By the time the final Decision Strike clip aired, Colbert knew he had us in the bag. —Bailey Pennick

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