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Friday, October 28, 2016

In some ways, Stephen Colbert just made his mainstream comedy debut.

For nine years, as the host of the eponymous The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, he played the role of a well-meaning, imperious idiot whose name he just happened to share. Where Colbert the performer went, Colbert the character followed.

He brought his delightful riff on conservative media personalities to the Emmys, the White House Correspondents Dinner, Bill O’Reilly’s guest chair, and — in perhaps his oddest gig — testimony before a congressional subcommittee (that didn’t really seem to get the joke).

But on Tuesday night, Colbert the performer made his debut on primetime late-night comedy in his own voice — as the new host of CBS’ The Late Show, inheriting the mantle from David Letterman, for whom the show had been founded in 1993. 

Colbert’s premiere opened with the singing of the national anthem all across the country — a parody of presidential campaign announcement videos — plus a special cameo by a certain friend of Stephen’s, revealing himself from under an umpire’s mask.

Sitting behind a new desk at the resplendent, recently renovated Ed Sullivan Theater — though with a few artifacts of the old “Stephen Colbert,” like the Captain America shield — Colbert signaled an intention to remain at the intersection of entertainment and politics, by welcoming as his first guests noted Hollywood lefty George Clooney and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

But before he could do any of that, while giving a tour of his new digs, he also revealed that he had sold his soul to the dark lords — his sponsors.

As an act of meta-commentary, Stephen caught up with the major political news that he’d missed during his time preparing for this new show — the media junk food that is the Donald Trump campaign.

In his opening monologue, he made reference to the pressure to differentiate his new gig from his old role. And it’s not necessarily that there’s a lot of the familiar Colbert character in his new persona, it’s that the old gasbag had a lot of Colbert in him.

Or, as he said himself later on in an exchange with Jeb Bush: “I used to play a narcissistic conservative pundit; now I’m just a narcissist.”

But in the best way possible.

Colbert is a performer who can magnificently toe the line between pompous and goofy, raw and refined, smart and stupid, performing silly acts with obvious delight and unassailable confidence. His long history as a master ironist invites his audience to view, perhaps charitably, even the hammiest skits as arch meta-takes on the very nature of hammy late-night comedy.

In other words, the friction between being in on the joke and stuck in a bad one doesn’t exist with Colbert, which is perhaps why the debut episode of his new show was such a weird and wonderful hour, rough and rowdy and full of contradictions and promise.

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Copyright 2015 The National Memo
  • i2grok

    Talent is easy to recognize, if not always appreciated.

  • Sundance98

    *Hated it. Dumb and dumber……Clooney was awful, Jeb Bush was awful, Colbert was very disappointing. Couldn’t watch the entire thing…even Jessica Simpson on Fallon
    was better. Where is Dave? Colbert needs a Bottom 10 List to start off the program
    every night, some good News monologue and throw in the crap in the middle, not at the beginning of the program.

    • Daniel Jones

      It took a coup of years for Letterman to hit his stride, same for Stewart. Give the man a chance to get his sea legs.
      I don’t think you’ll regret it. Besides, you get to see him jog off the five pounds the Oreos just put on him!

      • Sundance98

        Bombing on Opening Night usually tells folks, they will soon be playing “Off Broadway” after six weeks. Colbert doesn’t seem to grasp that his audience is the entire country….not just channel jumpers. As Otto said: This was Painfully Funny! Funny peculiar, not funny ha ha! We wish him luck in making an instant turn around. Let us know when that happens…eh?

  • kalpal

    An excellent court jester is hard to find. Colbert is one of the best.

  • Otto Greif

    Painfully unfunny.

  • Fed up

    100% agree. He needs to settle down and refine the show. Too manic for me…we’re looking for meaningful dialogue and funny lines. Steven is good has been and will be. He will see the ratings and they’ll tweak the show for us. Otherwise….back to HBO he goes.