Entertainment TV Late Show review: why Colbert was no Letterman

Late Show review: why Colbert was no Letterman

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With a little dance, a rendition of the American national anthem and more energy than David Letterman displayed in his entire career, Stephen Colbert exploded onto the Ed Sullivan theatre stage as the new host of the Late Show.

A revamped set (with very Colbert Report-esque blue accents) and a colourful animated opening sequence made it clear Dave had well and truly left the building.

Paul Schaffer’s former seat was filled by an equally bouncy Jon Batiste and his backing band, Stay Human.

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For his opening monologue, Colbert had the kind of pluck that could only come from extreme nervousness.

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump provided the fodder for the first half of Colbert’s riffing, with the host likening his urge to talk Trump with the binge-eating appeal of Oreos.

Genuine laughs were few and far between – the requisite Ashley Madison gag featured, as did a bizarre hummus-themed sketch – and the show took a more serious turn when Colbert turned to discussing his predecessor.

“For the record, I’m not replacing Dave,” Colbert insisted, adding that he would try and “honour his achievement”.

Like Letterman, Colbert shines when interacting with his guests. While the departing host emanated a kind of deadpan, sarcastic detachment that played well against the big personalities of Hollywood, Colbert is more in the line of Conan O’Brien.

He’s sweetly curious and genuine even when being critical, which is equally disarming and certainly a refreshing change from Letterman.

George Clooney was very happy to appear, despite having nothing to promote.
George Clooney was very happy to appear, despite having nothing to promote.

George Clooney was the perfect choice for a starter guest. With nothing to promote (as Colbert continually reminded the audience) he was in ultimate form, happily talking smack with Colbert about his new marriage and playing along with a series of fairly ridiculous skits.

“What is it like being the arm candy in a relationship?” Colbert asked the actor of his human right’s lawyer wife, Amal. A slew of jokes about the actor having to look pretty while meeting very intelligent people ensued.

Governor Jeb Bush was up next, marking the point at which Colbert truly came alive.

Clearly happy to be back in his comfort zone, Colbert was whip-fast with witty retorts, spot-on with questioning and confident enough to talk over the top of Bush.

“I don’t think Barack Obama has bad motives … I just think he’s wrong on a lot of issues,” Bush said as the audience half-clapped.

“You were so close to getting them to clap!” Colbert retorted with a glimmer in his eye.

Colbert's brother got involved in a gag about Jeb Bush's brother, George W.
Colbert’s brother (pictured) got involved in a gag about Jeb Bush’s brother, George W.

After a grilling on how he differed from his brother to much laughter, Bush exited the stage, leaving the show to devolve into what can only be described as a musical mess featuring some semi-recognisable musicians (Hey there, Ben Folds. Where have you been hiding?).

After 22 years, Letterman had well and truly stopped trying and the ensuing result was one of effortless humour and familiarity. You laughed even before he’d finished speaking.

Colbert’s approach is a little too eager. Like that know-it-all in high school, you have this overwhelming urge to slap him down.

A lot of Colbert’s appeal is that you want to like him, even if your initial instinct is uncomfortable silence as he delivers half-baked jokes.

He’s the good guy – enthusiastic, intelligent, playful – but whether he can stand alone without the idiotic right-wing act is a question to be answered in another five episodes.

What’s evident is that he didn’t exactly nail it the first time. However, based on his excellent career track record, he’ll probably redeem himself in time for us to forget about this uninspiring debut.


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