Fans of The Colbert Report felt very comfortable with The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He didn’t stray far from his over-the-top right wing narcissist, even joking, “I played a right wing narcissist, now I’m just an actual narcissist.”
The Late Show basically brought The Colbert Report to network TV. The new studio was bathed in patriotic colors and was complete with several of the same props used on his Comedy Central show; including his Captain American shield, his Mother’s pennant from the MLK freedom rally, and even an amulet that provided a transition into a cringe worthy live read commercial segment. Colbert took this chance to unleash his nerdy side with references to an ancient God that I’m too lazy to search whether was a true figure in history or not.
Based on the success of Stephen’s Comedy Central show, sticking with many of the same elements was the correct play. The fear of many was for CBS to completely abandon the Colbert character for a cookie cutter late night host, similar to the way NBC cut off Conan’s nuts in order to make him more friendly to the entire country.
Colbert’s opening monologue was, as suspected, the weak point of the show. In order to be fair, I would chalk up some of the flat jokes to nerves and the desire to play it safe for the large crowd that would be watching this premier event. His jabs at pop culture in the most vanilla way possible were a stark reminder of how little we all miss Jay Leno. Not to say Leno couldn’t be funny, but he definitely tried to please too many with his no-risk brand of humor. Examples include: “Hey, how about those clowns in Washington eh? What a bunch of hot air coming from DC!” or “Celebrity X that is synonymous with marijuana said something…here’s a punch line about weed!” Benefit of the doubt is given to Colbert that the bland monologue will get a bit edgier in time.
After his monologue, Colbert took a seat behind his desk and looked to be 100,000% more comfortable. He almost immediately fell back into Colbert Report mode; giving us a furrowed brow over his stack of notes and began to twirl his pen like a light saber from a comedy Jedi. As to be expected, this was his best segment. He even kept the “fake news” portion from his previous show. Giving us a 5-minute reel of A-plus material on what we have all been missing these last few months: Colbert’s take on Trump. The reel was complete with over the top reactions, brilliantly cut together news clips, and Photoshop punch lines only Colbert pulls off with regularity.
Colbert then took on a segment most didn’t really know what to expect, the interviews. Although he has a ton of experience speaking to guests, it was only for 3-5 minutes and always in character. So it would be difficult to judge how well he could truly immerse himself into the interview and become a charming and engaging like Late Night hosts have to be on a nightly basis.
He flourished. Colbert’s first guest was George Clooney and they seemed to have a pretty great report (ah, unintentional joke, but I’m leaving it in.) with each other. A few of the jokes didn’t really hit, but Colbert was fearless about it. When you try original material, not everything is going to work, but that in itself is fun to watch. How will the host react when the joke falls flat? Colbert because of his background in improvisation comedy has been able to rescue a ton of segments that were bombing. This skill has also made it possible for him to take guests with no television savvy and make them entertaining to talk to.
Colbert’s second guest was Republican Presidential candidate, Jeb Bush. This again was handled about as informative and entertaining as possible. Jeb doesn’t have quite the same “charisma” as his brother George, but he is very well aware of who his family is comprised of. Colbert made a few jokes about his brother and family in general without putting Jeb in too awkward of a situation; all while letting him discuss his own reasons for being the best Presidential candidate. Politics is where Stephen came from and what he knows, having Jeb Bush was a great way to kick off a late night career where politics will be an inevitable central topic.
The show ended with a rendition of the Sly and the Family Stone song “Everyday People,” from Late Show band leader Jon Batiste with a star-studded group to help out that included Brittany Howard, Aloe Black, Ben Folds and Mavis Staples. To keep it from getting too heavy (and maybe because he didn’t want anyone to forget who the star was), Stephen Colbert joined the group on stage and belted out a few lyrics.
Overall, it was a great, safe night of comedy. The promise of having “Colbert Report” Stephen in our lives every night is exciting. The thought he might become a watered down version of what made him successful is concerning. Either way, he knows how to make it work, whether you get the joke or not.