So, it turns out that out-of-character Stephen Colbert is a lot like in-character Stephen Colbert. And I’m okay with that.
The comedian/actor debuted his version of the CBS “Late Show” Tuesday with a new house band from a revamped Ed Sullivan Theater, but there was no shortage of hints for fans of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” that they might want to stick around.
For starters, there was the set, familiar in its red, white and blue color scheme. The Captain America shield from his old show’s digs hung on the wall. And the host (oddly acting as his own announcer thought the night) was decked out in the colors himself. He addressed the audience as “nation,” a “Colbert Report” staple, and even referenced “Jimmy,” the control room presence from his old show when asking for an on-screen graphic to be removed.
While Colbert made every effort to retain his left-leaning “Report” viewers, the theme of “let’s all just get along” welcomed those of differing political persuasions who might have been tuning in out of curiosity.
The host began the show with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” taped in locales across the country. At the end of the opening, a little league umpire ripped off his mask to reveal he was none other than former Colbert boss (and the new show’s executive producer) Jon Stewart.
He treated his second guest, Jeb Bush (following George Clooney, whose film career was gently mocked in a series of “scenes” from the fictional movie,”Decision Strike”) fairly, generously allowing him to tick off talking points from his Republican Presidential campaign. Admitting that he and his own brother (in the audience) had differing political opinions but could still get along, Colbert asked Bush where he disagreed politically from his sibling, George W. Bush (not conservative enough, Jeb said).
The host ended the show with an all-star, conciliatory rendition of Sly and the Family Stone’s soul staple “Everyday People” featuring vocals by Mavis Staples:
I am no better and neither are you/We are the same, whatever we do.
Oh, sha sha … so subtle.
- A short, standing monologue in which the host introduced his house band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, led him to his desk (carved, he said, “out of a single piece of desk”) where he mocked Donald Trump, devoured a bag of Oreo cookies and — at the command of a demonic, Assyrian firedog amulet — hawked Sabra brand hummus.
- Colbert gave Clooney a wedding gift — a paperweight engraved with the phrase, “I don’t know you.”
- The host envisioned Donald Trump’s proposed border wall as series of Trump skyscrapers knocked over onto their sides.
- Colbert gave a short but sincere thank you to former “Late Show” host David Letterman by way of Letterman’s beloved stage manager, Biff Henderson.
- CBS honcho Les Moonves sat in the audience in front of a console that would, ostensibly, allow him to flip the broadcast feed over to a rerun of “The Mentalist” in case of trouble.
- It was awfully sweet of Colbert’s first audience to greet him with a standing ovation and the familiar, “Stephen! Stephen!” chant.
- The host thanked the audience for joining him in making “television history. And, like most history,” he said, “it’s not on the History Channel.”
- The Alamo Drafthouse tweeted this about Clooney’s fictional thriller: