Stephen Colbert has had a rough couple of months. He’s fallen to third place in not only the prized 18-49 demo, but in overall viewers, behind both Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. A couple of months ago, CBS installed a showrunner. Two weeks ago, his longtime producer Meredith Bennett left the show (or was pushed out by the network). David Letterman, in a rare interview, also expressed indifference to Colbert, adding that he’d have preferred a female take his job. There were even suggestions that the more viral James Corden from The Late Late Show might replace him soon.
However, an interesting thing has happened in the last two weeks. His ratings haven’t rebounded (yet) because he’s been pitted against Jimmy Kimmel coming off of a huge NBA finals lead-in, but Colbert is showing some fight. After a year of mostly playing it conservative when it comes to politics — his wheelhouse — and after lazily humoring Donald Trump when he was on the show last September, Colbert is starting to remind us of what we loved about him in the first place: An astute political eye, leftist positions, and the ability to mine the absurdity out of politics.
Stephen Colbert is starting to look like “Stephen Colbert” again. After delivering somber remarks on the Orlando shooting last week, saying “despair is a victory for hate,” he actually mixed it up with Papa Bear Bill O’Reilly when he was on the show, pushing O’Reilly to admit that Trump’s Twitter remarks in the wake of the Orlando tragedy were self-congratulatory. On Tuesday night’s show, he “took the gloves off,” and lambasted the Senate for failing to pass any new gun legislation.
“After the attacks in Orlando, Florida, I thought maybe the government might do their job and pass any kind of law, even a fig leaf, to justify their existence. Hey, Senate, my dog accomplished more than you this week when he rolled over and licked his nuts.”
In last night’s monologue, he also endorsed the Democrats’ sit-in while criticizing Paul Ryan and the Republican House members. “They’re fighting for two things 90% of Americans are in favor of: Stopping terrorists from getting guns, and sitting down,” he remarked.
“Republicans are already responding,” Colbert continued. “Representative Tom Cole said, ‘I don’t think we should allow any group to bring the work of the House to a halt.’ It’s true, it’s true: You wouldn’t want the gridlock to lose its momentum. Don’t let your complete paralysis get in the way of a good stalemate.”
Best of all, in attacking Donald Trump last week, Stephen Colbert finally got a taste of viral success, when he associated Donald Trump with a swastika while taking Donald Trump to task for his response to Orlando. This video was seen 4 million times.
Granted, the bite of The Colbert Report is still lacking, and the cutting jokes are too often hidden behind a friendly grin, but Colbert is starting to move away from the genial, late-night host bullshit. He can’t compete with Corden and Fallon in that regard, so Colbert needs to play to his strengths. The success of the last week may finally embolden him to really take the gloves off and once again reveal the brilliant satirist dying to get out.