Stephen Colbert is no longer Stephen Colbert the narcissistic conservative pundit. Last night, we finally met the real Stephen Colbert for more than 5 minutes. While the Stephen Colbert from The Colbert Report was definitely a character, there was a lot more of the real man in him than anyone realized, which results in a mixed bag for anyone who wasn’t an active member of the Colbert Nation.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is what smart people having fun looks like. It’s refreshingly different. That’s not to say the other late night hosts aren’t smart. With the exception of Conan O’Brien, they just don’t show it off on their shows often. The Jimmys and James Corbin all enjoy using their show for a televised frat party. Fallon plays games, Corbin copies Fallon’s ideas, and Kimmel plays pranks. Colbert will never do any of those things. If anything, he’s closest in tone to Conan. However, even on a good day, Conan comes of as a depressed comedian surrounding himself with wacky bits and happier people, whereas Colbert seems like a genuinely happy person having the time of his life and will do anything for a laugh.
For the opening of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Colbert travelled around the country and sang the national anthem with random people. It was a bit that the character of Stephen Colbert would have eaten up, which makes proclamations of the old Stephen Colbert’s complete disappearance ring hollow. To make matters worse, the crowd still insists on chanting “Stephen! Stephen! Stephen!” at every slight provocation. At this rate, it will be extremely hard for Colbert to shed his old image. The crowd needs to realize that, now that Stephen Colbert has dropped the character, it is no longer appropriate to express its undying love for the host in the middle of a real interview with a real politician regardless of whether or not it agrees with that person. But old habits die-hard, every time the chant begins Colbert basks in its glow for a few seconds before stopping it.
Colbert’s monologue was funny in the moment, but was overshadowed by chanting. The only memorable moment was CBS President Leslie Moonves, who was in the audience and had a Late Show/Mentalist switch to use whenever he disapproved of something. It’s a bit that David Letterman would have done, only he would have had a different take on the situation.
After the monologue, Stephen Colbert indulged in two blatant product placement spots. The first was for Sabra Hummus, which had Colbert fighting with the cursed amulet that was forcing him to do the promotion. If the product placement wasn’t so obviously an excuse for the bit, it would have been absurd, but funny. Instead, it was absurd and a little annoying. The following bit, which compared Donald Trump news clips and stories to the addictive qualities of Oreos, was funnier and extremely clever. Also, it revealed that Donald Trump is not white. In fact, he is Oompa Loompa-merican.
Colbert’s first guest was George Clooney. He was funny and charming. Clooney is clearly in on the joke that celebrities go on talk shows to promote projects and say nothing of any real value. Part of the interview actually had the two men stare at each other and admit that they don’t know each other. At least, Clooney was there to promote his Oscar bait project called Decision Strike! (It’s not a real movie.)
The next segment was an interview with Jeb Bush. Regardless of your political views, Stephen Colbert, who made it quite clear that there was a “non-zero chance that he will vote for Jeb,” made Jeb appear to be a levelheaded person and not just the current Bush running for president. While Stephen won’t be voting for Jeb, Stephen’s brother Jay was in the theater to let Jeb know that he wasn’t the only Republican in the room.
It’s safe to say Colbert is not David Letterman, and everyone is grateful for that. However, he hasn’t shed his Colbert persona completely because a sizable chunk of the character was not an act. Colbert likes making things about him (Why else would he have multiple pictures of his face on the Ed Sullivan Theater’s cathedral ceiling?) and the Nation enjoys stroking his ego. This will never change, but it seems out of place in Colbert’s new TV home. If you already have a late night TV habit, he’s not going to convert you, but Colbert is doing interesting comedy in a late night landscape where once groundbreaking shows, such as The Daily Show, now seem like old hat.
Rating: 9/10 (One point taken off for the chanting and for hitting the audience over the head with product placement)
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airs weeknights at 11:35pm on CBS.
Allison Lips is the Founder of Wait! What’s a Dial?, a television blog that showcases the writing of millennials. Allison graduated from Rowan University in May 2013. She has a passion for TV history, especially late night and game shows. If she could go back in time, Steve Allen would still be hosting The Tonight Show. Follow her on Twitter @waitwaitsadial.