Review of Late Night with Stephen Colbert

stephen-colbertSo far, I’ve seen two episodes of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Thursday’s and Friday’s broadcasts, and I thought that the Thursday interview with Joe Biden was captivating television. From the time Biden walked out, despite the mega-wattage of his smile, you could see in his eyes he was grieving, and Colbert dove right into the subject of Biden’s son Beau’s recent death, segued to Biden’s losing his first wife and his eighteen-month-old daughter in an automobile accident in 1972.

It was as if Colbert, a devout Catholic, who lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash in 1974, were holding a mirror up to himself when he asked Biden, a devout Catholic, about the role his faith had played throughout his travails. Furthermore, Colbert scored an enormous scoop by coaxing from Biden that he was not emotionally strong enough to run for president. It was uncomfortable to watch Biden in pain, but also life-affirming to witness his courage, and it was authentic, Colbert and Biden both speaking sincerely. I can’t imagine either of the Jimmys pulling off the Biden interview (Kimmell maybe, Fallon no way, and certainly Colbert’s alter ego from the Report would have had a hard time as well). Authenticity in late night television is as rare as a pro golfer without logos.

Lennon and Snyder

Lennon and Snyder

That interview reminded me of poor old long forgotten Tom Snyder and his Tomorrow Show where you could witness Snyder interviewing, sometimes grilling, the likes of John Lennon or Ayn Rand.

Dick Cavett also comes to mind. Cavett’s reruns are still entertaining today (unlike, say, old Carson interviews or watching 30 years from now Colbert’s Friday night interview with Amy Schumer). Although I’m fairly certain 62-year-old snobbish males who eschew Hollywood’s focus-group-tested movies isn’t the demographic CBS is dying to win over, I wish that Colbert would shoot for something more substantial than that Schumer interview.

It was even more boring than the Stephen King interview that followed. In fact, the Schumer conversation reeked of narcissism as she and Colbert gushed about hanging together at so-and-sos not all that long ago and then gushed about other celebrities they hang with, and then we got to see Amy drunk eating a cake in a home video and to hear both of them boast about being slackers in high school and then apologizing on air to two of their former teachers.[1] The self-congratulation meter was registering way up there at the danger level, like Dr. No’s underwater compound about to blow.

Of course, it might take some time for Colbert to shed his former persona and don a new one, and the show hasn’t had time to iron out its kinks, but Stephen’s entrance where he party dances with his bandleader Jon Batiste needs to be dialed down, and the audience itself comes off like a bunch of trained seals who have been injected with ALKS 5461. Also, I wish they’d hire someone to do the voiceovers announcing the line-up instead of Colbert’s doing it.

Enough carping. Not only is Stephen Colbert brilliant (his fast-draw witticisms during interviews rank right up there with Groucho’s) and charming, but he’s probably the only late night host working who has read Kierkegaard. I wish him the very best in a medium whose repetitious format gets really old really fast. As brilliant as the John Stewart’s Daily Show was, I eventually quit watching it because of the same ‘ol, same ‘ol.

Still, if Colbert can pull in interesting people (Phillip Roth instead of King, say, Björk instead of Schumer), then who knows?


[1] I actually teach at Colbert’s high school alma mater, and the teachers who taught him didn’t consider him a slacker but a quiet, polite kid who had been through hell, starred in the musical, and was into Dungeons and Dragons.

5 thoughts on “Review of Late Night with Stephen Colbert

  1. I have watched both shows as well. I don’t believe either of them were actually name-dropping, but doing it with irony. Although on the first night, I was slightly confused , I started to get where he was going on the second night. He is obviously many things , first of all intelligent. He is clearly bringing that to his show. It is a new version of talk show and I , who
    Was a “Letterhead ” for years was skeptical – though I loved Stephen Colbert’s other show. But last night he made me sure that he will be doing Colbert light AND bringing some meat to the mix,. I didn’t find it at all boring and his interview with Uber CEO was fascinating. He tried to say, “Hey , we don’t quite get it and he did a fine job of trying to make us understand, at the same time bringing some ethics in. My son attended the same school that he did , so I knew the teacher and I got a kick out of it. Reading between the lines, I felt it was a charming way to acknowledge him. Come on ! , Amy Shumer was doing what she does and what has made her a role model for women and girls. I just wish there was more of it. I had begun to watch Jimmy Fallon and I find him very charming, but see , as you say , that handling something like Biden in his grief is not in his wheelhouse.
    But bored , I definitely am not. Also, the early part of the show , I think, brings a bit of his very own type of ‘nerdy’ humor that remind me a bit of the Colbert Report . I love the genre and believe he will get a lion’s share of my late night time. And , since I’ve been watching talk shows for years, I am tiring of the monologue. It seems a dated way to get your comedy/news in. I think Colbert is attempting something new and has the talent to do it.

  2. Oops! Wesley. I had no idea this was you! Sorry! Telling you how it goes at Porter Gaud.! So , btw, did you teach him? I was so interested in seeing a review that I didn’t look where it was coming from! I was way too snide. Too late. As you can tell from this, I’m a slightly eccentric human being. The kids used to say. “Mom lost her keys. Check the freezer. ” At least I used a code name. Please pretend I’m a stranger.

    PS- So while I can still get away with the snide card, Tom Snyder was a bore.

  3. I hope you find a way to get your comment about Colbert as a student to him. I get the feeling he was down on himself as a teenager, and it might mean a lot to him to read that “mirror” from his teachers.

  4. Where are the good old days with David Letterman? With all my respect for Mr.Colbert….no comments as I don’t watch the late night show anymore…don’t enjoy it…too bad..it WAS good, not anymore.

  5. Where are the good old days with David Letterman???? Too bad…I don’t watch the show anymore as I don’t find it at all interesting and don’t like the person running the show!!!!

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