CBS announced that Stephen Colbert will be leaving Comedy Central to replace the outgoing David Letterman as host of “The Late Show,” in what has to be seen as a pretty big gamble. Finding a host with enough appeal to a younger demographic to compete with the quick success of Jimmy Fallon’s takeover of “The Tonight Show” must have been at the top of the list for CBS. Colbert certainly ticks that box. But there are risks involved to be sure. Colbert’s shtick on “The Colbert Report” was Emmy and Peabody award-worthy, but it also earned the disgust of many conservatives.
Some of the extreme dislike began in 2006 when Colbert performed at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, delivering a sometimes uncomfortable roast of then sitting president George W. Bush that some feel was in poor taste. (Watch the video sometime. Even for those who cannot stand Bush, and love Colbert, it can be hard to watch at times.) But it was hilarious. Although some of the more shrill jokes fell flat, much of the bit was sheer genius – which is why my guess is that Colbert will do well at CBS.
Not everything Colbert did was just for laughs. Satirists are often the only ones who tell the truth about what’s happening in our society. Colbert’s work on the SuperPac is one great example. (I’ve written more about it here).
But for all of the time Colbert has spent in front of the camera, hardly any of it has been as himself. Even when appearing on other programs, Colbert has often opted to appear in character. Most people have never seen him in a straight interview, and have no idea what he’s really like. How much is Colbert like his satirical conservative alter-ego? According to Colbert, not much. He’s often said that he doesn’t even allow his children to watch his show. Those who have watched the show over the years know that Colbert actually seems like a sweet man – opinionated, crass, bawdy, and even raunchy at times and almost always funny – he seems to have a softer side.
What Colbert did at Comedy Central couldn’t be more different than what he’ll be asked to do at CBS. There’s certainly some satire involved, and they do spend a lot of time poking fun at people. But “The Colbert Report” had an agenda that “Late Night” can’t afford to have. Colbert doesn’t have to push the limits of his character, he can just be the good guy that his closest friends say he is. Whether or not people will respond is the question everyone will be asking until the show kicks off.
So, happy Friday everyone… these are a few of my favorite Colbert moments:
- Colbert on “The Bible” miniseries
- Colbert on the death of his mother
- Colbert and Stewart on the Emmy Awards
- Colbert at the WHCD, 2006