A show devoted entirely to the people of Paris freed Stephen Colbert from broadcast talk-show TV’s stifling format.
Other late-night TV hosts have made heartfelt, and sometimes profane, comments about last Friday’s attacks on Paris. Stephen Colbert turned over CBS’ The Late Show to the City of Light, bathing the Ed Sullivan Theater in blue, white and red light as John Batiste and his Stay Human in-house band opened with a performance of the French national anthem. The studio audience stood during the performance, in a show of respect.
Beginning his show seated behind his desk, as preferred by his Colbert Report fans, Colbert thanked France for what they’ve given the United States: assistance to General Washington during the Revolutionary War, the best way to put potatoes into boiling oil, half of the continent at a bargain price, Colbert’s favorite way of kissing, and the Statue of Liberty.
Colbert noted the night’s guests included The Acro-Cats which, as the name suggests, is a group of acrobatic cats. They were already booked, before the show became a tribute to Paris, and they considered canceling, Colbert acknowledged. “Is tonight an appropriate night for Acro-Cats? Is there ever an appropriate time? No, there is not! So absolutely, let’s have them on. Because, you know what I don’t think ISIS would like? Acro-Cats. They’re cute and silly – two things ISIS hates. The only thing they have in common with ISIS is that they’re a bunch of pussies.”
But first, Colbert brought out Col. Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions in Vietnam and current NBC News analyst, who explained nothing significant has been done since ISIS claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack on Paris. The bombings in Syria are a mug’s game minus boots on the ground, he said, and nothing significant will be done to end the situation unless governments are willing to commit several hundred thousand soldiers on the ground for one or two decades.
Bill Maher came out next, to talk about his favorite topic: Islam. It was pretty toned down stuff for Maher, but apparently too much for Colbert, who seemed displeased. He told Maher you should never talk about religion or sex at a dinner party and wondered if Maher ever had been invited to a dinner party. Maher said he’d received more gracious dinner-party invitations in his day.
Maher noted how different the two men are, because Colbert is married and Catholic. Colbert said Maher was raised Catholic and invited him to “come on back,” adding that all he had to do was humble himself and “salvation awaits you.” Maher, an athiest, acknowledged there are things in the universe he does not understand, but “my response to that is not to make up silly stories, or believe intellectually embarrassing myths from the Middle Ages – but you believe whatever you want.” Mention also may have been made to Colbert getting his moral guidance from a book written by people who had not known where the sun went at night.
And so the night wore on. When Maher tried to play the my-show’s-on-HBO-and-I-get-to-use-profanity card, Colbert’s whipped around on him and gave the CBS Decency Police quite a workout. When Maher suggested the American public is growing weary of Donald Trump, Colbert corrected him with word Trump’s polling is at 42%. Maher didn’t actually bite Colbert in the leg, but when you had said that, you had said everything. Colbert called Maher “doll.” Maher called Colbert “sweetheart,” like he meant it to sting – and “Steve.” “Who’s ‘Steve’?” Colbert began to giggle. “Who the f*ck is ‘Steve’? Are you my third grade teacher?”
“Here’s an analogy that might be understandable to you,” Maher sneered a moment later, and began to explain how voters are now just dating Trump.
“They turned of the camera five minutes ago,” Colbert interrupted, then added, “I don’t know what we’re going to do with this interview, but I really enjoyed it.” Maher looked pretty irked, like a guy who had expected to be treated like a philosopher king and instead had been cast as toy bounce-back clown.
A message to the people of France from Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Florent Groberg, who had tackled a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2012, was particularly moving. Much less so Colbert’s short interview with artist Shepard Fairey. He’s the guy who created Obama’s Hope poster, and is headed to Paris for an art installation. And then, the Acro-Cats.
Some may have been talking to Maher in the green room; they refused to come out of their kennels. One feline finally came out, but only to knead the carpet onstage. A little Siamese cat finally agreed to jump through a silver donut, but not with any real vim. Colbert pranced out, wearing cat ears, to help things along. Even with his best effort, very little went as planned.
The audience loved it.