The Hateful Eight: Late Show w/Stephen Colbert
Hate Week has reached the end of its unexpected two-week hiatus – kind of like Jared Fogle, I wasn’t allowed anywhere near a laptop for reasons that are better left unsaid. Today we’re going to be tackling the hour-long snooze that is late night talk shows.
I’ve watched Stephen Colbert when he manned the Colbert Report on Comedy Central, a show where he played a narcissistic conservative pundit, and now when he’s on the Late Show, a show where by his own admission he simply plays a narcissist. And his new gig seems to have ditched the cringeworthy-on-purpose vibe of the Report in favor of a just regular old cringeworthy feel. You don’t realize it all too often, because the audience seems to be entertained with anything from Colbert’s obnoxiously repetitive shouts of “Jeb!” to the iTuens User License Agreement.
There’s the opening monologue, which is about 80% applause and chants of “Ste-ven Ste-ven,” (including a horridly uncreative self-introduction), followed by a preview of the guests for that night to more applause, then the everyday welcome of Jon Batiste and Stay Human (the in-house band) which receives – you guessed it – the sound of the audience’s hands slapping together yet again. Interspersed in all of this is some number of words that technically qualified as humor because they have laughter coming after them. It’s capped off by a very awkward ‘one last thing’ joke as the band mercifully prepares to go into the opening credits. Over the opening month, he’s stringed together tired Trump parodies (it’s a shame that he didn’t take former colleague John Oliver’s words, “I couldn’t give less of a shit about Trump” more to heart) with dated references to Ashley Madison with a ton of other jokes I can’t bring myself to type.
In his defense, he’s done a masterful job with what was one of his weaknesses back on the Report – the maligned celebrity interview, a segment that’s filled with fake laughter (Fallon), an overall lack of things to talk about (Kimmel), uncomfortable yelling (Conan), and the void left by Letterman’s refreshing brusqueness. He’s still coming into his own with the actors, but the effectiveness of extracting something meaningful from political guests like Ted Cruz, Biden, Jeb Bush, Ernest Moniz, Kerry, and entrepreneurs like Trump, Evan Spiegel, & Dominic Wilcox. His strength lies in asking questions that haven’t been asked, and producing answers that the audience didn’t realize they wanted – instead of going for cheap laughs, that is.
Batiste (plus his outrageous outfits) and the band are fantastic. The guests so far have been good. The set looks great. His promos were well done. He has three guests every night so there’s surprisingly less time where he has to fly solo. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be doing well. He’s had a total of three entertaining segments – the Hungry for Power Games, his Myers-Briggs test, and the Bob Brady one-congressman two-cups fiasco (note that he was playing a character in all three bits). His median viewer age has gone up by 16 years, and he’s already stolen the two-spot from Kimmel – which means he doesn’t have to be smarter. His material will stay at the level it’s at, and he’ll continue to be successful. It’s precisely the reason that network CEO Les Moonves chose him instead of going the Fallon route and taking a chance on someone unproven. That’s what happens when you’re the best commodity out there – he’s built up enough goodwill to last quite a while.
I hope it doesn’t. If it does, all I’m watching for is the inevitable moment when Moonves hits the Mentalist button for good.