The Colbert Report wasn’t a great show, it had far from an original format, but it did have a great host. The character Stephen Colbert played was obviously satire, taking a good bit of the character from Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly, but the energy, wittiness, and enthusiasm that made the character widely loved carries over into the Late Show. Aspects of his real life personality slipped in on the Report, his deep love of Lord of the Rings for instance, but his true persona, at least his persona for TV, now shines brightest on the Late Show. In college I drove 3 hours with some buddies to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear at the National Mall back in 2010. That was the first time I saw Colbert live; this was the second time.
I tuned in for his late night debut and came away a little unimpressed, 9 months of preparation and this was all he was able to do? Stephen had George Clooney and Jeb Bush as his first guests and I thought they weren’t impressive or the right choices for his debut into late night. Truthfully, I expected Jon Stewart to be his first guest, but looking at past instances of late show hosts the first guests don’t matter. Stephen will channel his work experience on the Colbert Report and make jabs at Bush in an election year, but Clooney appearing on the debut seemed like CBS bringing the biggest name they could find, an awkward choice. The two clearly didn’t know one another, a joke Colbert immediately addresses, but Clooney didn’t even have anything to promote. The interviews were weak, and those comprise of 50% of the show, so I can understand why the debut didn’t soar.
There was too much focus on musical performances by Jon Batiste and Stay Human in the debut, but during the episode I saw live, the music was used perfectly. The weakest parts of many shows are the musical guest performances at the end, instead they were used to amp the audience and cut to commercial breaks. I don’t like Late TV, but I like Colbert. I was exposed to him more, Comedy Central would air the Daily Show and Colbert Report periodically throughout the day while other networks would air actual news. Outside of YouTube highlights, I don’t watch these kind of shows or would stay up to watch them. After seeing the Late Show live, however, my lofty expectations for the debut disillusioned me, judging a show after one episode was foolish, especially for a daily formatted show like this. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and I have no doubt this show will be good for a very long time.
My Experience Live
I reserved a ticket online a couple weeks in advance, the tickets are free, but you don’t know who the guests will be, so if you don’t like the guests tough luck. I went to the 11/3/15 show with Antonio Banderas, the CEO from Netflix, and John Irving. Two more days and I could have seen Bryan Cranston and Colbert together. Standby tickets are always an option, but there were a little under 400 people with tickets for the show I saw; the Ed Sullivan Theatre capacity is exactly 400, so probably only around a dozen people will get in on standby on average. I was told to arrive at least 15 minutes before 3:15 to pick up my ticket, the annoying part being all guests had to be there with the person who made the reservation. The earlier you arrive to pick up your ticket the closer to the stage you can get.
After picking up my ticket I was told to come back at 4:00, the people that came earlier were supposed to come back at 3:30. All the seats are good, it’s a small theatre, I had one of the lowest numbers and still sat in the middle of the mezzanine area able to see everything on stage. You wait a long time in line and because your number will reserve your spot I recommend coming late. I didn’t get into the theatre until 4:50 when I was told to come back at 4. No cellphones are allowed out in the theatre and taking a picture will get you kicked out, however, the camera guy next to me had his phone out the whole time, hypocrite. After ushering us in the theatre and seating us, they played this clip from the show to lighten the mood. Warm up comedian Paul Mercurio does crowd work beforehand and encourages the audience to be excited and laugh hard at every funny thing Stephen says. He didn’t need to though, we were amped. Ignore Stephen when he tells the crowd to settle down, go crazy, and that’s exactly what we did.
Mercurio led us through some cheering exercises and started poking fun at audience members in the crowd, even bringing some people in the front to take photos with him on stage. He roasted some people on the upper levels as well. The band came out next and really got the place rocking, Jon Batiste and Stay Human had a ton of energy and it was infectious. They probably did two songs; the tambourine guy smashed his instrument and the pieces flew everywhere…I didn’t notice anyone clean this up. Stephen even picks some off under his desk while they were filming. Jon Batiste pretended to be interviewed at Stephen’s desk and then, to the audiences’ surprise, Stephen came out. I wonder if they do that bit every night. Stephen does some Q & A with the audience before the show officially starts, and here are some highlights from what I remembered.
Q: If you could play a part in any musical what would it be?
A: I would play Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.
This is one of his favorite songs from the musical, he started singing and the band played along, I have to say I was pretty impressed with how well he sang and how much of the lyrics he knew.
Q: Who’s been your favorite guest so far?
A: Neil deGrasse Tyson was great, but honestly I’ve loved all my guests.
Terrible question, obviously he can’t single out one of his guests.
Q: When is Jon Stewart coming on the show?
A: Whenever, he’s made two cameos so far, no plans right now. Jon’s relaxing with his family.
We have tons of footage from when they did the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, watch that.
Q: Are you ever going to run for president? Why didn’t you go further in 2012?
A: You do know I used to host a comedy show right? I have a lot of respect for the people that run, and actually, I think Jon Stewart would be better suited for that position than me, but he wouldn’t be able to hold his punches during the election.
Robin Williams starred in a movie with this premise, doubt either run for office though.
Q: Tom Jones is in town, do you have any plans to sing with him?
Super random question, but I liked Stephen’s response.
A: I didn’t know that, I’d love to have him on the show. Actually, Tom Jone’s Help Yourself is a song that would constantly run through my head when I did the Colbert Report, it’s such a selfish song and it really helped me play that character.
Q: Thank you for choosing me! And let me tell you my question!
Wasting everyone’s time here buddy, spit it out.
Q: Marry, fuck, kill the presidential nominees.
A: I’d fuck Jeb Bush (forgot his explanation), Marry Marco Rubio, he just seems like the kind of guy you bring home to your mother. Trump right? He’s got to be the guy I kill.
I would have answered differently. Fuck Hillary, it’d be nice for her to sit back and take it for once and not the other way around. Marry Jeb Bush, so George W would be my brother in law, that’ll be fun. Kill Dr. Ben Carson, how is he still in the running?
Notes During the Taping
- Stephen made a mistake looking into the wrong camera and we reshot it, he joked how this show needed some shred of professionalism and that he’s not filming in his dad’s barn anymore. He then says welcome back from dad’s barn on the return, and they used it in the final cut, so a funny inside joke with the audience that may have confused some people watching from home.
- The cat he used for a skit was held by someone under his desk. I didn’t notice the cat or this person sneak in before hand, so there’s most likely a secret hatch or something under his desk.
- The band played during commercial breaks while the backstage crew stood blocking Stephen’s desk while he did, I’m assuming, mock interviews with his staff.
- I’m not sure if there was anything in the guest’s mug, but I’m pretty sure they never replaced that. None of the guests used it, but still. Stephen takes drinks from his mug throughout the recording.
- Interviews are much more intelligent and respectful than on the Colbert Report. He makes less jokes at his own expense, but still keeps that sharp wit and playfulness during his interviews.
- He no longer parades around when the audience cheers the guest introduction.
- I honestly didn’t know when the filming started, I just clapped with everyone else.
- The band played for us as we exited, Colbert thanked us, but there were was no ending Q & A.
- I waited in line at 4, and left the show a little before 7. Would recommend.