Tonight is the night! Stephen Colbert takes the reins of The Late Show, marking another impressive feat in an already extraordinary career trajectory. From The Daily Show personality (seriously how many successful careers has that program launched?) to insufferable pundit caricature on The Colbert Report, Mr. Colbert has cemented himself as one of the premier individuals in entertainment—and his legend will only continue to grow.
If you’ve never seen Stephen Colbert eviscerating Bill O’Reilly in this interview—in character, mind you—do yourself a favor and take a couple of minutes to watch. Colbert’s comedic genius is on full display, demonstrating comedic timing and irony that had even O’Reilly’s production team stifling laughter. Or if you’ve got a bit longer, take a look at Colbert headlining the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, delivering a blistering critique of the Bush Administration—to the Bush Administration. It’s 25 minutes of politically salient discomfort.
On The Late Show, Colbert may not need the laser-guided wit and rhetorical devices that launched his infamy on The Report, but he has shown his prowess as an adept and engaging interviewer in other arenas. Frankly, that’s got to be a relief. Masquerading as an exaggerated politico for over a decade had to be mentally exhausting, so the traditional desk-coffee-couch format has to be a relief. But it will also be a test of Colbert’s chops once he sheds the over-the-top persona.
Will America be as receptive to a toned down Colbert? Will the audience be a bit reticent, longing for the “truthiness” of the Colbert of legend? Will he find some way to incorporate “Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger?”
It will be an interesting pivot, that’s for sure, but if anyone can make it work—and make it feel seamless—it’s Stephen Colbert.