YAHANDA: Something ventured, nothing gained
Something essential will be lost when Stephen Colbert leaves “The Colbert Report” to host the “Late Show”
Stephen Colbert made an appearance last Wednesday on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” to confirm that “The Colbert Report” is officially ending. Playing his character from the Report, he announced that he had “won television” and was departing for a change of scenery.
Colbert’s revelation, at this point, was just a formality. It has been known for weeks that he is David Letterman’s replacement for the “Late Show” and thus that the “Colbert Report” has to end. This “Daily Show” appearance served as a way to say goodbye to Colbert, the character. Fittingly, it was alongside Stewart, the man who helped bring Colbert’s faux-news career to national prominence. But though Colbert’s ascendance to late night superstardom is a testament to his talent and the respect that he commands, one cannot help but think he is sacrificing some of that which made him such a popular television personality.
Like “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” occupies a unique television niche. Colbert is, at his core, a comedian. His show uses satire to highlight absurdities in mainstream news coverage and current events. At the same time, he is able to use this comedic coverage to educate others. His character, an exaggerated portrayal of a loudmouthed conservative pundit, gives him the perfect opportunity to blend humor and substantive information. His ongoing coverage of Super PACs, for instance, was quite enlightening and resulted in one of the Report’s two Peabody awards.
Indeed, it is the Report’s unique humor and goal of educating viewers that sets it apart from the other shows with which it is grouped. Colbert is often included among late-night hosts whose shows run at similar times. He also competes for Emmy Awards against the likes of Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel. That said, the Report is better than a talk show. Its guise as a news program enables Colbert’s character to comment on political and social issues much more effectively than, say, Jimmy Fallon. It also yields worthwhile interviews. Colbert has at least one guest per show. His unorthodox questions, which emulate those asked on major news networks (albeit satirically), actually allow for unfettered conversation. What results is an interview that is amusing and unique, but also informative.
Additionally, the people whom Colbert brings on his show are not the typical choices. He interviews authors, scientists and entrepreneurs more frequently than he does popular celebrities. The person with the most appearances on the Report is astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Colbert’s guests usually have a new book to discuss or a new worthy cause to plug. Such guests are a welcome change from the normal celebrity fluff that inundates social media and the Internet.
One must wonder, then, how switching to the “Late Show” will alter Colbert’s ability to fully exercise that which makes the “Colbert Report” so ingenious. The largest change will be seeing Colbert out of character. His devoted legion of fans — the “Colbert Nation” as they are known — will likely still support him without the character. That said, Stephen Colbert the character is the version of Colbert that has had the most impact off-screen: he has testified before Congress, held a rally in Washington DC, run for president and started his own Super PAC, amongst other endeavors. His outlandish activities definitely helped the real Colbert and the Report gather followers and have a sizeable societal impact. It will be interesting to see if Colbert can still have — or will attempt to have — the same presence as host of the “Late Show.”
From purely a ratings standpoint, the actual Stephen Colbert will certainly prosper. He is an improv comedy veteran who has extensive acting prowess outside of the Report. He will probably become the best interviewer of any of the late night talk shows, even out of character. And he has the ability to sing, dance, tell jokes or anything else that is needed to hold an audience. At the same time, though, what made “The Colbert Report” special was the freedom with which Colbert could call his own shots. If he cannot transfer similar content from the Report to the “Late Show,” we will miss out on the biting satire and show format that made him great.
It is unknown how the more structured layout of the “Late Show” will constrain him with respect to guests, too. Unless he can bring on similar people to those he saw on the “Report,” the quality of his interviewees will decline. People (or at least I) tune in to see Colbert express his specific brand of humorous-yet-politically-minded comedy. That style will be noticeably absent when Colbert has to interview a Kardashian sister instead of a congressman or Vanilla Ice instead of Jane Goodall.
Colbert will be successful in his position at the “Late Show,” but envisioning him in a new chair is nonetheless disappointing. He built “The Colbert Report” into one of the best shows on TV. It’s impossible not to wonder if he’s wasting his talent by switching gigs.
Alex Yahanda is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns appeared on Mondays this semester. This is his last column for us, as he is graduating this May.