In the weeks that have passed since Jon Stewart signed off The Daily Show for the last time, I’ve been struggling to find a talk show or late night host to fill the gap that Stewart left. Sure, Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart’s replacement, starts up his run at The Daily Show in just a few weeks, but in the meantime, I’ve found myself watching reruns or segments of Stewart’s Daily Show in my (increasingly sparing) free time. The other day, however, I was thankfully reminded that Stephen Colbert, Stewart’s most successful protege and the former host of The Colbert Report, would begin his reign at David Letterman’s Late Show on CBS this week.
I scoured the internet for any updates I could get on what Colbert’s new show could possibly be like. Colbert promised that the character he played to host the Colbert Report—a raging conservative pundit—would not appear on The Late Show in any way. This was frightening to hear since Colbert’s character was the reason The Colbert Report worked so well. At the same time, it was intriguing to me that audiences would finally get to see the man behind the pseudo-conservative maniac and it’s understandable that Colbert had exhausted the routine after nine years hosting The Colbert Report. Speaking with IGN, Colbert stated that he’d gladly feature more politicians, scholars, and everyday extraordinary people on his program. I appreciated his awareness of the overload of celebrity personalities on the late night circuit.
Looking at Colbert’s fellow late night hosts, I thought Colbert would inject a new vitality into the genre that Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and especially Colbert’s predecessor, David Letterman, strongly lack. Whenever I tune in to see a clip or actually watch one of their shows, their routine feels unbelievably and unpleasantly forced. It never seems like these hosts ever actually want to be there running their show. It appears they just go through the motions every night to get their paycheck at the end of the week (or however often they get it.) They all follow the same set-up of monologue, a comedy segment with the host, two celebrity guests promoting their latest endeavors, and finally a musical performance. I hoped that Colbert would break this mold and evolve the late night platform to something more sophisticated.
Watching the first episode Tuesday night, I felt mixed emotions as Colbert went through the same shtick as his predecessors and contemporaries. I checked each box on my list as Colbert failed to diverge from the worn out recipe, and that was disappointing to a degree. Sure, I’ll give him the fact that it was his very first night on the job and it will probably take him some time to adjust to the new setting, but I already missed Colbert’s biting sarcasm and uncomfortable interviews, in which his loudmouth character berated his guests to no end.
In interviews, Colbert expressed that he was happy to be able to genuinely engage with his guests instead of speaking to them through his character on The Colbert Report. On the other hand, watching Colbert speak with presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Tuesday night’s program didn’t look genuine at all. Colbert did ask some hard questions, especially in reference to what Jeb felt his brother, President George W. Bush, did incorrectly in office, but even some hard-hitting questions could distract us from the fact that both these men were using each other for promotion and promotion alone. Sure, they were polite and cordial, but Bush just seemed concerned with grabbing what votes he could from the appearance and Colbert kept alluding to the idea that he was popular enough to garner Republican presidential candidates on his new program.
On a quick note, Colbert’s Late Show house band, Jon Batiste & Stay Human, is phenomenal. They crafted a truly funky and catchy theme song for The Late Show and their interludes between commercials and Colbert’s segments were really fun to hear. If for nothing else, I’ll probably watch the show every now and then just for them.
To be fair to Colbert, he had already addressed the qualms I have with his new program before he even started it. He specifically told his fans that the energy he brought to The Late Show would not be the same energy he brought to The Colbert Report and I went into Tuesday night’s program looking for that energy. I was really disappointed to see Colbert resort to the same routine as the other late night hosts, but even within those restrictions, Colbert displayed indubitable and gut-wrenching humor that got him where he is today. There’s a lot of room for innovation and improvement, but hey, it’s only the first week. It’s good to have you back, Stephen.
Featured Image by CBS