Last night, after months of anticipation, Stephen Colbert finally took the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater as the second host of The Late Show. For the first time in years, he sat behind a desk not as the exaggerated “Stephen Colbert,” but as a version of himself.
This new Colbert is no less prone to self-glorification (the ceiling of the theater features a projected stained glass dome covered in images of his face) or wacky flights of ego, but that wasn’t the highlight of this first outing. What came through more than anything else was a sense of eloquence and warmth. Colbert never sounded like he was working off the cuff, and each joke came out with a polish and a flourish that smacked of performance, but somehow that didn’t make it cold or formulaic. The predictable segment-by-segment layout of the late night talk show was also in place, but even that didn’t feel stale. There’s a glow surrounding Colbert, exemplified by the little gleeful twirl he took when he walked out onstage last night, and I don’t know about you, but I was swept up in the glee. It’s a new era of late night, and Stephen Colbert is determined to make it his own.
So, how did he do that with his first show? Check out the clips below, with commentary from me to find out. Oh, and if you want to catch the full show, head over to Colbert’s website.
THE COLD OPEN
Colbert kicked off the show, like a good ball game, with the National Anthem, singing along with fans and ending the segment with a cameo from an old friend.
For his first desk segment, Colbert decided to show off his new set, complete with a faux stained glass ceiling and a video board behind him. Then, he went over his various pieces of memorabilia (yes, he still has Captain America’s shield), and things got weird, as the segment transitioned from a set tour to a black magic-induced hummus commercial. No, really.
TRUMP AND OREOS
All summer long, his fellow late night hosts have been mocking Donald Trump while Colbert’s just had to sit there, so he decided that, for his first night out, he would indulge in all the Trump wackiness he’d missed. Using Trump’s declaration that he’ll never eat Oreos again as a kickstart to the segment, Colbert gloriously mocked Trump himself, late night’s endless search for the perfect Trump joke, and the idea that a man who stamps his name in gold on buildings is some kind of hero for giving up a cookie.
GEORGE CLOONEY’S FAKE MOVIE
Letterman regular George Clooney was Colbert’s first guest, and they spent a good bit of time acknowledging that they’re not really friends (Colbert presented Clooney with a Tiffany paperweight engraved with the words “I don’t know you”) before acknowledging that, while Clooney was happy to be on the show, he was not actually there to promote a movie. So, to make the interview go a little more smoothly, they just made a movie up.
COLBERT GETS JEB BUSH TO BE NICE TO OBAMA
One of the biggest question marks hanging over Colbert’s Late Show in the weeks leading up to the premiere was what kind of interviewer he’d be when it came to politicians. Now that the veneer of the Colbert caricature is stripped away, what kind of questions will he ask? Well, I wouldn’t call his Jeb Bush interview “hard-hitting,” but it definitely wasn’t soft. When Bush talked about being a bipartisan leader, Colbert got him to acknowledge that every single candidate says they’ll work with everyone, then made Bush try to explain how he’d actually do it. The result: Jeb Bush admits that he doesn’t think Barack Obama is evil, and Colbert gets a big laugh with a “what passes for governing” stinger. I really hope Colbert keeps growing into this kind of conversation, because if he does he could be late night’s best interviewer.