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.