After nine years on air preaching “truthiness”, the lovable political idiot of Stephen Colbert has signed off for the last time.
The star-studded, albeit a little anti-climactic (hey, it’s his sendoff, he can do what he wants to) didn’t end with the character’s demise. Instead, Colbert turned the tables, killing the show’s recurring character of death to become immortal.
Now it’s canon that the fictional character will live on in spirit. And while we won’t be seeing any more of him on TV, you will be seeing more of the real Colbert when he replaces Letterman on The Late Show late next summer.
But here’s the big striped and star spangled bald Eagle in the room – while his character created a nation of fans, will that viewership carry over to Colbert the man?
That’s not an insult towards Colbert as a person – it’s actually the opposite. Between inventing words like “truthiness”, running for president and creating his own super PAC, Colbert created a cultural icon. He did such a good job committing to his alter-ego, that he created a character that people wanted to watch night after night who can literally never die. Maybe too good of a job.
It’s worth wondering if people will readily adjust to watching Colbert minus the character. The suburban father of three who teaches Sunday school and studied at Northwestern and Second City is basically the exact opposite of his on-screen persona. I mean, alternate universe opposite.
Even the way he talks sounds professorial next to his frenetic and confident-yet-ignorant alter-ego. The effort he took to keep his real life private and separate from his character both to his kids and the world worked; most people still don’t really know the Colbert behind Colbert.
So will people be able to separate him from his Report persona, and will they buy it? After all, talk shows are 95% interview, and the interview aspect of The Report took a backseat to the rest of the show.
And if we’re being honest, the interviews on his show weren’t really particularly good.
Sure on The Daily Show interviews can get a little boring, but at least they’re informative. The interviews on the Report weren’t particularly informative. Much of this was actually due to the character itself. Colbert’s devotion to the character actually bordered on making his interviews frustrating to watch because the character was too present.
In that way, dropping the character will probably make for better interviews that don’t seem like unnecessary side notes.
Not to mention, doing a lot of the same old shticks that an established audience is used to doesn’t always work so well. Just look at Jimmy Fallon’s incarnation of Late Night Tonight. He and his show are undeniably successful. And when it comes to what he’s good at – mainly bits and skits like “Ew!” and “Thank You Notes”, he’s hilarious.
But just like Colbert’s character felt invasive in interviews, Fallon hasn’t figured out how to separate being a star performer and a good talk show host. He’s constantly overshadowing guests by talking over them or shoving himself into any bit he has them doing or just trying way too hard to quip with them to the point that his interviews are just frustrating to watch.
So who knows? Colbert dropping the character may actually allow his humor to shine through while also making room for interviews that are as worth watching as they are laugh-worthy. And let’s not forget that there are people who doubted that he would be able to keep up the whole Colbert persona. And nine years later, look where we are.
People expecting The Late Report will be disappointed. But people looking forward to seeing what this comedic genius comes up with next might just be onto something.
(Featured Image courtesy of Comedy Central)