When the announcement came down that Stephen Colbert would replace the retiring David Letterman as host of The Late Show on CBS, many asked if Colbert could be entertaining in his own skin. Stephen built a substantial fan-base hosting The Colbert Report on Comedy Central for nearly ten-years, however he portrayed a character. The Washington, D.C. native took on the persona of a Conservative TV Talk-Show Host, a mashup of Bill O’Reilly and Ted Baxter and it didn’t take long before he became a household name.
That character ceased to exist on the last episode of The Colbert Report. Stephen left the safe and comfortable home he built on Comedy Central, finding himself staring into the giant spotlight of CBS, hoping that viewers would enjoy the Real Stephen Colbert. That question got answered with an unqualified yes, as Colbert took over as the new host of The Late Show and proved he’s ready to take on the Big Boys and become a vibrant component of late night TV.
Stephen didn’t reinvent the wheel or even build a better mousetrap on Tuesday night. Nothing in the show stood out as being innovative, variations on the same routines that emanate from Television’s Stone-Age, when Steve Allen hosted The Tonight Show in the fifties. The show began with the host singing the National Anthem at a variety of venues (a little-league game, a bowling alley, some manufacturing plant) with a different singing partner at each stop. While far from being roll on the floor funny, the low-key sketch told the audience that they’re not above being silly. All the great late-night talk show hosts, realized silliness was part of the equation of an entertaining show. Even Jack Paar got silly sometimes, especially if Jonathan Winters was on the show that night.
Colbert played to his demographic (young, politically conscious and news savvy) in his first bit at his desk, taking aim at the 800-pound gorilla of the summer Donald Trump. Likely chomping at the bit while he sat on the sidelines over the last few months, the comedian referenced Trump’s vow to stop eating Oreos to campaign audiences in recent days as Nabisco’s closed a plant in Chicago and are relocating to Mexico. Colbert produced a package of America’s favorite sandwich-cookie and started chowing down cookies with every clip of Trump they showed. The sketch concluded with Trump repeating nonsensical sounds (bing-bing-bing, bong-bong-bong) and Stephen nearly comatose in his chair his face covered in cookies.
He and first guest George Clooney, kept going back to the point that Clooney came on the series debut without a project of his to promote. When the two found they had little to talk about, the discussion shifted to a nonexistent project that Clooney wrote, directed and starred in, playing the Secretary-General of the United Nations, whose trying to save the planet from a nuclear holocaust. This nonexistent project even had film clips, some stock-footage of Manhattan than a knock at the door for the Secretary-General. Clooney’s wearing a tux and opens the door with a scowl on his face growling leave me alone I’m disarming a nuclear-bomb.
Colbert handled himself well with his first political guest, former Florida Governor turned Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush. Stephen asked Jeb if the former Governor had been a little peeved at his mother for saying that there have been enough people named Bush and Clinton in the White House. (he admitted he was.) He also said that he believed his brother George didn’t act with enough fiscal responsibility in his final years as President.
The show’s house band, John Batiste and Stay Human come complete with two melodica players and a tuba player, performing a tasty-version of the Sly Stone Classic Everyday People, that included Mavis Staples, Buddy Guy and Derek Trucks among others. Colbert seems to enjoy singing on stage and while James Taylor and Paul McCartney aren’t quaking in their boots, he’s got a pleasant voice.
Jimmy Kimmel’s always left me cold, he’s a bit too cruel and snarky for my tastes. While I’ve enjoyed some of the viral clips that have emanated from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon as the host, I’ve never been drawn to the show. Now this was just one episode and Colbert and his staff had over nine-months to prepare for their debut, can The Late Show With Stephen Colbert maintain the quality they displayed in their first outing. I don’t know, but I’m willing to stick around for now and find out.
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert Airs Weekday Nights at 11:35 pm on CBS.