Many wondered if Stephen Colbert, after playing a bloviating conservative for 1,447 episodes of his “Colbert Report,” might finally break character and just speak as Stephen Colbert, human being, in Thursday’s final episode. He did not.
Spoiler Alert: Don’t read this if you don’t want to learn details about Stephen Colbert’s final “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central before you’ve seen it for yourself.
In fact, Colbert took things in the opposite direction. In the show’s middle segment, he defeated death and then declared himself immortal. After a commercial break, he warbled the Ross Parke and Hughie Charles tune “We’ll Meet Again” with a wide-ranging and random assortment of well-wishers -ranging from George Lucas to Katie Couric, to Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy to Arianna Huffington to Cookie Monster – then took off in a sled to Eternity with Santa Claus, Abraham Lincoln and “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek.
“If this is your first time tuning in to ‘The Colbert Report,’ I have some terrible news,” Colbert told his viewers and studio audience, a joke which elicited a laugh but which also pointed to the new opportunity ahead of him: Colbert is set to take over “The Late Show” on CBS after David Letterman steps down in late May.
Colbert’s finale is one of many shifts that has taken place in latenight over the past year, most notably the “Tonight Show” handoff from Jay Leno to Jimmy Fallon. Chelsea Handler stepped own from her “Chelsea Lately” show on E! last summer, and Craig Ferguson is slated to broadcast his final turn on “The Late Late Show” on Friday.
If viewers were looking for a hint of what Stephen Colbert, mainstream late-night host, might look like, they didn’t get it. As he has for nine years, Colbert maintained his over-the-top stance as a ultra-patriotic crusader for freedom and justice,a role he has used to skewer any number of political issues and current events. “I promised you a revolution and I delivered,” he boasted to the audience.
Colbert also took some time to point out his varied achievements. In his regular segment, “The Word,” a spoof of Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly’s “Talking Points Memo” pieces, he reminded viewers how he coined the word “truthiness” in one of his first programs.
But he made an impression with new stuff as well, particularly as he began to sing the finale with fellow Comedy Central host Jon Stewart as Randy Newman played the tune on the piano. From there, the set seemed to explode with random assortment of heavyweights including Barry Manilow, James Franco, Big Bird, Alan Alda and David Gregory. Bill Clinton, Vince Gilligan and J.J. Abrams made cameos via taped footage.
But it was Colbert who made the biggest impression, of course, even appearing during the commercial breaks thanks to his alliance with show sponsor Wonderful Pistachios. Colbert didn’t break character, but the show was not without sentimental moments: He announced that an auction of sets from his show — including his C-shaped desk and faux fireplace — raised $313,420 for two non-profit orgs. And in the closing moments end he delivered earnest thank-yous to the production staff, guests and the “Colbert Nation” of fans that buoyed his antics ranging from running for president to sponsoring the U.S. Olympic speed skating team.
Comedy Central used the “Colbert Report” finale to its fullest advantage, running promos for not only new season debuts of “The Kroll Show” and “Broad City,” both of which are expected to start in January, but also “The Nightly Show,” a program hosted by writer-producer Larry Wilmore that will air in the “Colbert Report” time slot starting Jan. 19.
Colbert may have borrowed a page from Handler, who brought out a bevy of guests for her finale. She was joined on stage by Gwen Stefani, Gerard Butler. Tim Allen and Dave Grohl, among others.
Colbert is slated to start on CBS some time next year following Letterman’s sign off in May.