Stephen Colbert’s Next Late-Night Show

Ken AshfordElection 2016, Popular CultureLeave a Comment

I like Stephen Colbert.  I liked him on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and I like his improv work.  I liked him when he did Stephen Sondheim’s Company.

I liked his charactor on The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, although the schtick wore very thing with me after a while.

As David Letterman’s Late Night replacement on CBS, I had high hopes.  Letterman was and is the late-night guru of my generation, so I didn’t expect Colbert to be groundbreaking in a field now overcrowded with contenders.

So I watched his debut show this past Monday with guest George Clooney and Jeb Bush.  And all I can say is…. meh.

For one thing, I don’t care for talk shows that rely on too much pre-recorded or pre-written material.  The chatting part with guests should be free-flowing, not scripted.  I don’t mind if you plan to do things with them (like play a game, Fallon-style), but don’t cut to a video made earlier that day with the guest.

For another thing, Colbert hasn’t proven to be a good interviewer.  On The Colbert Report, he would often interrupt the guest in order to inject his Bill-O’Reilly-like personality for comedic effect.  I found that annoying.  On Late Night With Stephen Colbert, he still interrupts the guests and is thinking about what to ask rather than listening.  Very unusual for a guy with an improv background.

That said, he’s clearly making a splash, and I am happy about that, by booking big political guests.  Last night, he made news by having Vice President Joe Biden on… and Biden made it pretty clear that he won’t be running.  But according to The Verge, it was a watershed interview for Colbert, and the highlight of his week.  And why?  BECAUSE he dropped the gags:

Colbert warmed Biden up by ridiculing the moral integrity of other politicians, noting that the vice president’s reputation has always been sterling by comparison. “How did you maintain your soul in a city that is so filled with people that are trying to lie to us in subtle ways?” joked Colbert.

There weren’t many one-liners or gags after that. Instead, Colbert took Biden into a conversation that centered around faith and heartbreaking personal loss. Tragedy for both men came only two years apart; Biden’s first wife and daughter were killed in a 1972 car accident, and two of Colbert’s brothers along with his father perished in a 1974 plane crash. They could relate with one another about persevering through the emptiness that resulted. “Faith sees best in the dark,” said Biden, a quote borrowed from philosopher Kierkegaard.

I think they’re right, but you be the judge.

Now comes news of a huge “get”.  Colbert has booked Donald Trump.  If Colbert tries to work LESS at being funny, and keeps up these bookings, he may be a force for the 2016 elections, taking Stewart’s mantle for political comedy.