Let's be honest - David Letterman was the greatest talk show host in history. We all knew that he wouldn't do his show forever, and we felt a bit of pity for the person who would be replacing him. However, the absolutely brilliant Stephen Colbert was just the person for it, and this week we finally saw, after a year of anticipation, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and while it had its flaws, it stands as a great debut week for the show. Ratings were up and down, but overall it was quite a great debut.
What made Letterman so iconic was his unique interview style and his brand of comedy. There are so many imitators, but none of them has truly gotten to his level. Colbert is clearly not falling into the trap of being the "next Dave Letterman" but instead going for the better plan of being the "first Stephen Colbert" - he brings his lovable, goofy charm to the format, and unlike Jimmy Fallon, his direct talk show rival, Colbert doesn't need to do anything to gain our trust - he has a dedicated fanbase and surely this new exposure will get him new fans. The interesting thing is that even after this week, Colbert already feels like the elder statesmen of the talk show world. He is clearly assured of the direction he is hoping for the show to go, and while he isn't being as inventive as Kimmel, or as viral as Fallon, Colbert is bringing something captivating to late night.
I don't want to bash Fallon, but I will use him as an example here - Fallon is a very entertaining comedian and The Tonight Show is fantastic and better than it was under Jay Leno. However, Fallon seems to be concentrating less on the talk and more on crafting a show and instead chooses to have fun with his guests. It surely is very entertaining, but one also has to consider the fact that this is a talk show, and it seems that with the departure of both Letterman and equally brilliant and totally underrated comedic genius Craig Ferguson all in one depressing year, the focus is now more on creating viral moments instead of simply doing the interview. Sure, it can be draining to have to see a disinterested starlet plug her next Bravo special, but when the interviewee has something interesting to say, and the host is dedicated to the interview, there can be some fantastic moments happening behind the desk. Letterman and Ferguson were brilliant at this, and it seems like this is the one thing Colbert is keeping alive from their legacy. Colbert is just such a genuinely nice guy, but he has a caustic sense of humor that can really burn someone he isn't interested in.
It remains to be seen how he responds to a guest he doesn't feel any interest towards, because, in this first week, all the guests have been people Colbert clearly had an interest in. I can't wait to see how he does with one of the Real Housewives or one of the E! stars - then we can truly see where Stephen stands in the late-night talk show game.
However, it's only fair to look at this week as a learning experience for Stephen and the Late Show team, but even in this first week, we can see a great show starting to form. Something I want to point out is that Colbert doesn't stray away from the late-night tradition of having a house-band, and much like Dave's tenure, the band, Stay Human, is a rag-tag group of musical misfits who are absolutely talented. They are led by Jon Batiste, who fits the role of sidekick to Colbert. The interactions between Colbert and Batiste have been fleeting so far - other than some goofy dancing at the beginning of each episode, they don't interact much...yet. I can see a great partnership starting soon, and they already had a surreal moment when they shared some renditions of Jeb Bush's "Jeb!" slogan. Stay Human have a smooth, funky sound that will serve Stephen's hilarious surreal nature very well.
There have already been some great moments in this first week alone, so I can't possibly discuss them all. In typical Late Show fashion, I'll give a list of the best moments from the first week:
Number 5: "Everyday People"
What better way to end off your first show than with an all-star performance of one of the greatest songs of the 1960s? Jon Batiste and Stay Human are joined by some great musicians and friends of Colbert, including rock icon Buddy Guy, piano rock god Ben Folds, Brittany Howard (the unique voice behind Alabama Shakes), smooth soul singer Aloe Blacc and the Paul Janeway. It's a joyful, energetic performance and set the tone for the rest of the week
Number 4: The Colbert Non-Report
I don't think I'm alone in being fearful that we won't ever see Colbert's brilliant political commentary again. That fear disappeared when Colbert took to his desk each night to give some of his trademark political commentaries. Maybe he went a little bit easier on the candidates than he usually did on The Colbert Report. He clearly showed that the Colbert we know and love is still in there, and we are ready to embrace the "real" Stephen while still loving the old one.Number 3: The Second Guests
Those who view talk shows often know there are headline guests and most of the time a second guest who is slightly less important than the previous one in terms of getting screentime. However, I found the second interviews the most brilliant - his interviews with George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and Amy Schumer were great, but Stephen found his best moments this week in the second guests - questioning Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on the logistical problems of having Uber deliver food, or asking Stephen King why his early critics are now dead, or forcing Jeb Bush to do a Donald Trump impression. Stephen Colbert clearly loves this offbeat kind of humor, and it fits his show well and makes for riveting television.Number 2: Joe Biden's Emotional Interview
The mark of a great talk show host is the ability to create a poignant and emotional interview while still having humor about it. Not many talk show hosts ever achieve this, but Colbert managed to get one of the most wonderful interviews out of Vice President Joe Biden, speaking of faith, family and loss. It was a wonderfully heartfelt interview, and Colbert handled the delicate topics with such care and sensitivity.
None of us knew who the heck "Troubled Waters" were when they were announced as a guest. There were no actual pages about them, and their official website simply listed their past gigs, such as a barbecue and a canceled Bar Mitzvah. They were apparently the world's best Paul Simon tribute band. In fact, they were so good, their lead singer was indeed...Paul Simon. It was a wonderfully surprising and hilarious moment, and it only got better when Stephen stayed on the stage and joined in with the classic "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard", dancing like no one's watching and singing like no one was listening. Honestly, this end to the week was better than almost anything else done on television this past week. If Stephen keeps this kind of thing up, he'll be the "King of Late Night" eventually.
I like Jimmy Fallon, I love James Corden and I have so much respect for Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brien - but Colbert seriously took the talk show game up to the next level. I have no doubt that he will be working out the kinks and ascending to the top of the popularity charts in no time. It was a great debut week, and I definitely think Colbert is on the right track to being a worthy successor to Dave.
What did you think? Let us know!