Turns out, Stephen Colbert’s late-night persona as host of CBS’ Late Show isn’t going to be so different from the character he played on Comedy Central, the improv actor-turned-comic told reporters at the TCA Summer Press Tour.
When asked if viewers would finally going to see the real Stephen when he debuts on September 8, Colbert called it a strange expectation that a late-night show is supposed to be a confessional, or therapy. “Who is the real Stephen Colbert?” he joked.
“I don’t think anybody would have watched that old show if they didn’t know who I was,” he said. “Because that guy was a tool.” Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, he added, “If you want to see somebody’s real face, give them a mask.”
Playing his conservative gasbag character on The Colbert Report, “I had the excuse that I didn’t mean it, but I’m here to tell you I meant a lot of it. … I even agreed with my character sometimes. My hope is when people see me on the new show they will say ‘Oh wow, a lot of it was him the whole time!’”
CBS execs “haven’t asked me to change,” he said, reporting that programming chief Nina Tassler has said “we love what you do” and the network has given him free rein.
Expect The Late Show With Stephen Colbert to do a lot more political coverage than his time slot competitors because, Colbert said, it’s in his DNA and that of his staff – he’s brought his entire Colbert Report staff with him to CBS.
He picked the September 8 start date because that used to be the traditional start of the presidential race.
“Now I’m hoping certain people stay in the campaign until September 9,” Colbert said. “I’m not going to name any names, but I want to do jokes on Donald Trump and I have no venue. Right now I’m just dry-Trumping.”
Speaking of his writing staff, one reporter in the room asked him to detail the staff’s diversity. “Lot of Leos. A couple Tauruses. But we make it work,” Colbert said. “Obviously those people shouldn’t be left alone.”
Real Stephen won’t be as “actively ignorant” as was Colbert Report Stephen, and he is looking forward to interviewing guests “without having to translate it through an idiot’s mouth.”
The Ed Sullivan Theatre is being “taken back to its 1927 state and Late Show With Stephen Colbert will be seen “in the context of a Broadway theater,” Colbert said. “You didn’t have that before. … You couldn’t tell it was a theater. Now you can,” he said of the historic space that had been reconfigured for David Letterman when he joined CBS in 1993. “I find it a very intimate space.”
Asked about his appearance on Jon Stewart’s final night hosting Comedy Central’s The Daily Show last week, Colbert said he knew Stewart was “going to flop around like a fish on a dock” when he began to thank Stewart for all he’d done for him and the show’s other correspondents, many of whom have gone on to get shows of their own on other networks. “I felt like a rodeo clown trying to keep him onstage,” he said. What viewers could not hear when the other returning correspondents joined him onstage after that emotional exchange with Stewart, was them all chanting, “Made him cry! Made him cry!”