You might have heard that Stephen Colbert was trying out his new persona with “test shows” for The Late Show. Well, last week I had the unique pleasure of sitting in on the last of these tests, getting a preview of the set, the house band, this new Colbert, and even some of the comedy bits that will be revealed this week.
To preserve the fun of tonight’s debut, I won’t discuss the segments that’ll likely be reprised for a national audience. But for those of you concerned about how The Colbert Report host would transfer over to a more traditional late night talk show format, I have good news: this is still the Colbert you love. And he’s brought some key mementos.
This one you’ll probably spot right away. It’s smack-dab in the center of a bookcased section of the set that resembles the old Colbert Report environment. You might remember that in the wake of Cap’s death in the comics, Marvel Comics’ Joe Quesada bequeathed this shining beacon of American heroism unto Colbert, citing that he was “the only man who has the red, white and blue balls to carry the mantle.”
You can revisit this big moment below:
2. His mother’s Freedom March pennant
On August 28th, 1963, Stephen Colbert attended the historic March On Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his monumental “I Have A Dream” speech. And he did it in utero. His mother Lorna Colbert, attended the historic event, pregnant with the future TV personality who would years later host his own march on Washington. She came away that day with soaring spirits and a pennant that she preserved, and that is now preserved to remember her on the set of The Late Show.
At the :40 sec mark, Colbert shares this story with the youngest speaker at the March on Washington/House of Representatives member John Lewis:
3. A photo of his dad
The Bible says honor thy father and thy mother. So you better believe that Colbert, a devout Catholic and Sunday school teacher, did just that. On the book shelf next to Cap’s shield and Mom’s pennant, is a photo of the late James William Colbert, Jr., who tragically died in a plane crash along with Stephen’s brothers Peter and Paul when he was just 10 years old.
Here’s Colbert talking about his dad and this loss with Oprah in 2012. Warning, it’s a bit hard to watch this funny man be so real and so vulnerable.
4. Good ol’ American Narcissism
Before the “show” began, Colbert came out for a brief warm up Q&A as he used to on The Colbert Report. Here, he addressed the question so many of us have been asking: How is this Late Show Colbert going to compare to our beloved Colbert Report version? With a big shiny smile and a sparkle in his eye, he proudly proclaimed, “I used to be a narcissistic conservative pundit. Now I’m just a narcissist.”
This point was gloriously illustrated with a new edition to the the Ed Sullivan Theater. High up on a ceiling Colbert revealed was once covered by rigging and vents, a faux stained glass window was adorned with bright colors, CBS’s logo, and Colbert’s grinning face, repeated again and again like a comedy kaleidoscope. Look for it tonight. I’m sure they’ll get a shot or two in as every guest couldn’t help but comment on it.
In short, this is still Colbert the clown, happy to lampoon our culture and his own persona for laughs and political points. But freed from the Bill O’Reilly parody (that yes, he made distinctly his own), he is free to explore critical comedy in a new way. And it’s going to be beautiful.
Now, it’d be unfair to review a test show. However, on the way home I did feel compelled to share with my fellow Overlords, “If Trevor Noah doesn’t bring his A game to The Daily Show, Colbert—even without his conservative caricature—will bury him alive.”
Kristy Puchko was in attendance at The Colbert Report the night President Obama was re-elected, which was just as exhilerating as you’d think.