My introduction to Stephen Colbert was a lot like my introduction to Alan Partridge; for the first couple of minutes I thought, “What an utter arse.”
However, after a couple more minutes listening to Alan Partridge, I GOT it – he was a CHARACTER.
My mistake was understandable (and echoed over Britain) as this was Steve Coogan’s FIRST airing of the character, back in 1991, on the BBC radio show “On The Hour”.
It would continue when the show transferred to TV, as “The Day Today” – then get several series, as a mock-chat-show-host – and recently, a movie.
These shows were all scripted lampoons of pompous media, created and written mainly by Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci (whom Americans will know from “Veep”) and others, plus (until they fell out with Coogan – confirmation required) Stewart Lee and Richard Herring – and featured the above, with Coogan, Rebecca Front and still others.
However, back in ’91, all of this was in the future – and I tuned into Alan’s segment of “On The Hour” while it was IN PROGRESS.
This is a problem with lampoons – come upon them accidentally and it is all too easy to think they are REAL!
And thus it was with Stephen Colbert’s bombastic, right-wing arsehole character on “The Colbert Report” (two silent “t”s).
Americans were familiar with the character from the days when it had featured as a “reporter” on “The Daily Show” – which had a similar style to “On The Hour” and “The Day Today” – but this time, presenting absurdist right-wing views to mock the real thing on Fox “News” and the like.
However, I had only been able to get “The Daily Show” from 2006 (the point in the canon where Jon Stewart nearly climaxed, when he had the opportunity to report on Dick Cheney’s “peppering” of an old fool, on a quail hunt) – and Colbert had moved over to his own show a year earlier.
But I could not get his “…Report” on my package, thus the only time I saw him was when Jon handed off to him. Thus my assumption was that Comedy Central had acquired a right-wing comic for BALANCE!
So I was less than optimistic when I heard that he would be taking over from Dave Letterman – who was then easily the best chat-show host on American late night TV.
But Stephen was at pains to emphasise (probably for the benefit of many others like me) that his previous character was just THAT – and would NOT be the one replacing the much-loved Dave. This time, he would be HIMSELF (or as near as any performer ever gets to it).
And after six weeks, he has now become the NEW best chat-show host on American late night TV.
Jimmy Fallon has been doing the same show – and scripted intros – for years now.
Jimmy Kimmel’s “snarky” persona – unlike Dave’s – is REAL.
James Corden is a bit too bubbly.
Seth (NOT a derivative of James) Meyers is pretty good – however, his audience sounds like they are on Mogadon.
But Stephen Colbert hit the ground running (although the premiere, due to a tech issue on the night, nearly did not air) and has maintained his pace.
For their part, CBS pulled out all the stops, building Stephen a massive new set and restoring the Ed Sullivan Theatre (sorry – “Theater”) to its former 1927 glory (including the stained glass dome – now with added hi-tech digital projections).
And while Jon Batiste is no Paul Shaffer, he is streets ahead of Fallon’s “Roots”.
Also, Colbert has a neat new title sequence, using tilt-shift photography (although the fine details can really only be appreciated in HD).
And like Dave before him, he has been given virtual carte blanche, format-wise. And he has chosen to mix comedy with politics – and more SERIOUS interviews.
While Seth Meyers has moved more towards politics during his tenure.
At the same time as which Fallon and Corden basically just make love to celebs.
Which leaves grown-up Americans without a hard-drive (you can get pills for that now) the option to catch Stephen on CBS – then switch to NBC, for Seth – while younger Yanks can switch the OTHER way, for Fallon and Corden.
And snarky types who want an early night can just hit ABC and go with Kimmel.
Finally, a word about Mr Jon Stewart; this prince of a man – who is a producer of Colbert’s new show – is, like Dave Letterman, much missed. His generous spirit has seen so many of his “reporters” go on to greatness. In addition to Stephen Colbert taking over CBS Late Night, Larry Wilmore has acquired Colbert’s “…Report” slot, plus after helming “The Daily Show” while Jon was directing a movie, John Oliver has landed a weekly show on HBO – and Samantha Bee has a show on Turner. While the list of comic stars whose paths have crossed his legendary show cover half the American comedy industry (SNL covering the other half).
I do not have a finish for this piece, since by its nature it is open-ended – just like life.
But now the recent game of network TV musical chairs has ended, the young-viewer-demographic – and comparative youth – of the current crop of late night TV hosts will probably (barring disasters) endure for a while. Perhaps longer than I will…