As memories of David Letterman begin to become ingrained as the past, a seasoned late-night host takes his place at the same time, and on the same show on CBS. “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” premiered on Sept. 8, months after Letterman began his retirement. With his legacy, Letterman left a balance of elder cynicism and genuine childlike whimsy that included blowing up watermelons, letting animals parade around Ed Sullivan Theater and an always-jovial banter between himself and band leader Paul Shaffer.
Yet as the “Late Show” enters a new era, that energy is harnessed and passed on through Stephen Colbert, the former host of “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, a nearly 10-year-long program that saw veteran comedian Stephen Colbert create a character who grilled political candidates, tackled current news headlines, and gave a very convincing performance that swayed people into falling in love with the character he created. On “Late Show,” however, Colbert leaves his persona behind in order to bring his actual personality to viewers. This works in Colbert’s favor; his enthusiasm for the material practically bleeds through the screen, as he makes his nightly entrance dancing around the floor, taking in the moment. His embrace of the Late Show franchise is evident immediately as he jumps onto the set. This energy flows through everything that happens on the show – from the strange bits involving a possessed amulet that informs Colbert of the night’s sponsors, to one that sees Colbert donning a large, furry hat that endows him with the ability to make bold proclamations that we are all thinking.
The most fulfilling aspect of his energy is how the audience appreciates and feeds off it, from the offbeat gags to the grounded interviews. Perhaps it’s the fact that most of the audience, those in attendance and viewing at home, has followed Colbert from “Report” to CBS. The first few shows see Colbert insert some of the praised and beloved political musings he perfected on “Report,” which are alarmingly similar when they show up on “Late Show.” However, Colbert doesn’t rely entirely on old viewers to make up the audience, or even understand the format. His interviews so far are classified by a stern honesty and strive to be livelier than other hosts are on their respective shows. Whether it’s his frank interview with Jeb Bush, who he pokes and prods into giving a candid critique of his brother George’s stint as President, his emotionally-charged interview with Joe Biden, one filled with enormous honesty from the current vice president regarding his son’s recent death, or a light and fluffy one with stars such as Scarlett Johansson or Amy Schumer, Colbert understands what each interview needs. His ability to switch between urgency and lightheartedness is commendable and an obvious note of a hardened late-night TV host.
As the show moves into its second week, it is easy to assume that Colbert will continue to grow as a host. In his first week, the show already feels like it adds something entirely new to the late-night lineup, and it can really only go up from there. It’s going to be fun to see what weird bits Colbert and his writing team come up with next, or what highly emotional or endlessly hilarious interview is born.