Stephen Colbert as New ‘Late Show’ Host Elicits a Host of Emotions

Stephen Colbert The Late Show

The news of Stephen Colbert accepting the role of the future host for The Late Show came at first with a flurry of unsolicited emotions:  a jolt of excitement, a wave of relief, and wince of remorse. All good things, and even all bad things, must come to their eventual end, but it is never easy to see something loved walk away. Departure often elicits of host of mixed emotions. The final wave of a treasured entertainer is as bittersweet as it comes. In this instance, audiences and fans of two of television’s most popular personalities will be saying sayonara.

Letterman’s departure from The Late Show was announced last week and fans responded in a myriad of ways. Clips of Letterman’s best moments over the last 20 years started circulating heavily on the Internet, and once again the gap-toothed, Midwestern, cannot-be-bothered late night host re-entered lives from behind his studio desk. There are too many moments to capture, even in a quintessential, honorable Top Ten list, but publications all over the worldwide web are contributing to the frenzy as a way of honoring the host’s legacy. Chances are millions of fans around the world will revisit the legend throughout the next year via these clips recapping the start of his career, his glory days, and his final moments.

The reason David Letterman’s interviews continue to be re-watched for decades is because Letterman is an amazing interviewer; decidedly by some, the best in the business. His interactions rule the roost. He can talk to anyone about anything, or nothing, and find it all fascinating. He has the advantage of being both a people-person and a skeptic, which means he is bound to ask the unbelievable questions. He wants to get to the bottom of what makes people, not just celebrities, but them too, tick. What makes people tick is often not very elaborate. It is usually a common trigger that resonates with most and creates a common thread which unifies the room; it is a wonderful tactic that brings an audience closer in rather than pushing them further out.

People from everywhere are collecting bits and clips and sharing them on every social media outlet. From VHS recordings taped in the 80s and 90s of interviews with Madonna, Drew Barrymore, Bill Murray, and Andy Kaufman revived on YouTube to recent interviews with current legends such as Tina Fey, Lindsay Lohan, and Lady Gaga, Dave continues to stun his audiences with an awkward appetite for uncomfortability, sensationally being unamused by celebrity, and showcasing how even some of the most publicized personalities are as mundane, uneasy, and caught up in the same meaningless trap as the rest of humanity. Diving into the annals of interviews also elicits a range of emotions for the long-lost days of The Late Show, and as fans continue to look back, falling in love with Letterman all over again, it puts new host Stephen Colbert in an even tougher spot as he is challenged to win them over, or at least earn their trust.

It is safe to say that the interviewing style and gusto of psuedo-right wing, dim-witted, political correspondent personality that is Stephen Colbert is  nearly unparalleled in the entertainment business. By hiding behind the facade of a false character, the unashamed red-white-and-blue lover becomes unhinged and really goes for the guts. Authors, actors, bio-chemists, politicians, professors, race car drivers, the list is endless, all sit down at the pundit’s table prepared to have one of the hardest fights of their life. An interview with Colbert is presumably impossible to prepare for. The point is he is going to argue relentlessly. He has a  purposefully transparent mission to beat nearly every guest into a pile of pulp. But, coincidentally enough, the comedian has a way of sitting next to his guests and slicing them up in a way that evokes laughter and unease simultaneously, a trait that can be harkened back to Letterman without a doubt.

The cut-throat interviewer also has a sense of justice, which can be easily detected through his lollipops and mud trucks, aka “America Rules,” heavy handedness. The host of The Colbert Report also has a history of liking to win, especially a well-matched fight. This fever for a good fight puts his guests in a position to speak off the cuff, get away from the tag lines and the rehearsed pitch, and blurt out how they really feel via exasperation and impending defeat. As is another Letterman callback, Stephen seems to have a handle on what really matters, and by putting his guests on edge, he gets closer in, closer to an unveiling, which can be discerned as the real fight: revealing the inner self.

Letterman also has been infamous for not holding back from demoralizing grandiosity, exaggerating the ridiculous, or honoring those guests he feels truly deserve recognition for their trials and good works. When his playfully bemused candor senses a live pulse beyond the surface, he taps it, so the rest of his viewership can share in his awe. But not everyone has been a huge fan of Letterman, and The Late Show has lost audiences throughout its lifetime arguably due to Dave’s characteristic nonchalance and easily interpreted nightly disinterest. Recently, with the flashiness of The Tonight Show’s new host Jimmy Fallon, it seemed as if Letterman took a decisive step away from competing with such a champion of bit fodder. Instead, Letterman settled back into his “modest” seat, embellishing his own late night championship reign, and is having some of the best interviews of his career. The Late Show with Letterman at the helm will definitely not go out as a fizzle.

Although Colbert’s play on arrogance has gained him many acclaims, awards, and a large fan following, chances are the beloved politico pundit will need to step down from his pedestal to climb an even higher ladder. It will be sad to say goodbye to The Colbert Report, because without Stephen, there is no show. It will be interesting to see what antics, stunts, and personality foibles will transfer to The Late Show and what will be left behind. The television personality has reported that he plans on dropping his Comedy Central shtick, and according to John Stewart, his old pal is a man with plenty of tricks up his sleeve. However, even with a positive prognosis from Stewart, it is difficult to accept there will no longer be a Colbert Report,  no more Tip of the Hat, Wave of the Finger, and no more Colbert Platinum. Comedy Central and a worldwide audience will suffer a great loss, and it will be exciting to see how the larger-than-life personality makes his exit and also a bit disappointing to watch him go.

Both characters have gained the reputation of being able to elicit a host of emotions from both their viewers and their guests, and it really comes as no surprise that Stephen Colbert will be taking over Letterman’s reign as the new host of The Late ShowStephen is courageous, inventive, and hilarious–heart-warming, brow-beating, and hilarious. There is no doubt he has what it takes. In honor of Letterman and his accomplishments with the late night franchise, the new host stated that even being a guest on The Late Show was a highlight in his burgeoning career. He claims he never considered he would be following in Letterman’s footsteps, and with a proverbial tip of the hat acknowledged that every host in the late night pack follows the man’s lead.

Colbert and CBS have signed a five-year contract.  CBS has not yet released any details on the direction of the show nor where home base will be. Comedy Central has not yet released information on how exactly they plan on cloning their leader of the pack. John Stewart, looks like the Comedy Central crown returns to you.

Opinion by Stacy Feder

The New Yorker
Los Angeles Times

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