Stephen Colbert Tries His Hand as People-Pleaser in ‘Late Show’ Debut
Rarely does the elitist snob strive to recede into the wash of everyday people, but last night (September 8), Stephen Colbert did away with convention, took a deep breath and went under.
Colbert, who assumed a satirical alter-ego as a Republican pundit for nine years on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, watered down his signature subversive mockery in his Late Show debut. Between an obligatory-seeming monologue that left him tripped up (“Hello nation! I don’t know what that means…,” he began), more than one musical number and a cheesy blockbuster bit with George Clooney, it was as if he stared straight into the camera, got on his knees and pleaded: Please, please like me. And for a good chunk of the broadcast, there was no reason not to oblige.
After honoring longtime host David Letterman, who signed off from the show in May, and exploring the ways in which the famed Ed Sullivan Theater might change under his management, Colbert took Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump to task in a segment that played to the host’s penchant for ridicule. But where Colbert’s sarcasm was previously acerbic (New York magazine once called him a “caustic right-wing bully”), his approach was sweetened for CBS—literally—to sate viewers: Colbert compared Trump’s manic sound bites to Oreo cookies (the product of Trump’s latest political enemy, Nabisco), on which he couldn’t help but feast.
“It doesn’t mean we have to keep talking about you!” Colbert shouted as a collection of Trump-insulting clips played. “Someone in television should have a modicum of dignity, and it could be me!”
And in an interview with Trump’s fellow Republican Presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, Colbert proved that dignity and comedy didn’t have to be mutually exclusive on the Late Show. Here, he reduced the GOP to stubborn mules (“For seven years, on the Republican side, their emotional needle has been nailed—BANG!—in one spot: Obama bad!”), but treated Bush, as a guest, with respect. Bush, as if to meet the host halfway, offered President Obama a compliment. Diplomacy: It’s Colbert’s new look, and it shouldn’t take much tailoring.
Still, in the event a single additional mention of 2016 would officially send a weary 11:35 PM audience to Dreamland, Colbert turned to a Hollywood-deity for support. Clooney, who had ostensibly nothing to promote as the new host’s first guest, was an audience hit. Though his interview rested on industry cliches—people in the entertainment business: how boring!—it was charming. It also ensured that Colbert’s coming shows, which will feature Amy Schumer, Jake Gyllenhaal and Vice President Joe Biden, will feature an audience that’s too comfortable to change seats—even if Colbert’s edgier moments find some viewers occasionally shifting in their chairs.
See these stars’ advice to their past selves: