Last night the “real” Stephen Colbert made his debut as the new Late Show host. Although Colbert gained stardom for the faux-conservative pundit character he played on his Comedy Central show the Colbert Report, he has said he’ll drop the act for the Late Show and host as himself.
But who is the real Stephen Colbert? It seems his reveal won’t happen overnight, with plenty of mannerisms – such as his penchant for singing, with musical numbers bookending the show – carrying over from his Colbert Report character.
Still, some of the show’s quieter moments provided glimpses of the more sincere side of Stephen Colbert.
Before interviews with guests George Clooney and Jeb Bush, Colbert gave a short and sweet shout-out to David Letterman. Turns out the real Colbert thinks of himself as a “first generation Letterman fan” and admits to watching a lot of early Letterman as a college student when he didn’t have the “fullest social calendar.”
Colbert also took time to show off his new set and focuses on items he has backstage, including a cursed amulet and monkey’s paw which somehow illustrate the “regrettable compromises” he had to make in exchange for getting the show, like hocking Sabra hummus.
Of course he had to say something about Trump, and this bit is where the show seemed most like the Colbert persona we’re used to. Riffing on Trump’s recent boycott of Oreos (because Nabisco moved one of its Chicago plants to Mexico), Colbert gorges on Oreos while crescendoing through at least seven on-point Trump jokes.
The weaker points of Colbert’s Late Show debut were probably the interviews. Admittedly, Clooney wasn’t there to promote anything, so the show seemed to struggle with what to do with him, and the gag here — Clooney starring in a fake movie trailer — came off a bit forced. Perhaps the funniest part of the interview, and the one that served to remind us again of Colbert’s “average Joe” status, was when Colbert gave Clooney a belated wedding gift, a paperweight inscribed with the phrase “I don’t know you.”
The real, likable Colbert shined through again in his interview with Jeb Bush and suggests Colbert (no surprise here) will do some of his best work on the show when it comes to politics. In a divisive political climate, most late night talk show interviews with politicians seem fluffy and pat – the politician offers practiced responses and the host humors him. Colbert’s interview came off a bit differently. He managed to be charming and respectful with Bush while also staying true to his own politics. Case in point, although Colbert tells Bush point-blank, “there is a non zero chance I will vote for you” (HA!), he also attempted to bridge the political gap.
Closing out the show was an ensemble rendition of “Everyday People” (which Colbert, of course, participated in) featuring Mavis Staples. On the heels of a political interview, the song choice came off particularly poignant: “We’ve got to live together.”
Although his first night hosting the Late Show may not have been a revelation, it succeeded in giving us a sense of the “real” Stephen Colbert. He might not be an “everyday person,” but his debut on the Late Show proves he’s one we’ll look forward to getting to know.