Stephen Colbert on Donald Trump, Dropping the Character and Letterman’s Advice

Stephen Colbert CBS TCA
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Stephen Colbert is positively itching to get on the air. So much so that he’s saying a prayer every night that Donald Trump stays in the Republican presidential race just long enough to allow him to get off a few jokes when he takes the reins of CBS’ “The Late Show” on Sept. 8.

In his appearance Monday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, Colbert quipped that he’s been reduced to “dry-Trumping” because he doesn’t have a TV outlet for another few weeks. On the spot, he was challenged by the roomful of reporters at the Beverly Hilton to serve up his best lines.

“Every little boy grows up believing they could be president of the United States. I’m so happy that little boy is Donald Trump. Please stay healthy until I get on the air,” he said, in the quietly sincere voice that viewers of “The Colbert Report” came to love. “Every night before I go to bed I light a candle and pray that he stays in the race, and I also pray that no one puts that candle anywhere near his hair.”

Colbert thoroughly charmed the TCA crowd as he answered question after question about the process of dropping the mask of the buffoonish conservative commentator character that he played for nearly 10 years on Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.” When the session was over, he sat down on the edge of the stage while a hive of reporters surrounded him for the post-session scrum that ran about 10 minutes — until a CBS publicist came from behind and gently pulled him off the stage.

Colbert emphasized that one of the things he’s most excited about is to be able to do interviews in his own voice and persona. Interviews of intriguing people became his favorite part of “Colbert Report,” although he had grown tired of having to process his questions through the filter of the character. By the end of the series run last year, Colbert barely bothered to do so.

“On the old show I wore the character as lightly as a cap. I could dial it up and down as need be,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being sincerely interested in what they have to say without having to translate it through an idiot’s mouth.”

Colbert didn’t give up too much about his specific plans for the format of his show. He said he wanted to do some traditional latenight TV elements “in new ways.” And he announced that Kendrick Lamar will be his first musical guest on the show. Colbert said that it was only appropriate to welcome the rapper since Lamar was his last musical guest on “The Colbert Report.”

He did offer insight into the remodeling of the Ed Sullivan Theater, which has been restored to highlight the venue’s original 1920s architecture. He said it looks more like a traditional Broadway theater now rather than a TV studio because production technology has improved so much that sound and lighting equipment doesn’t need to be as prominent.

Colbert said he spent a day in the office with David Letterman about 10 days before Letterman signed off the show in May. Colbert asked Letterman a barrage of questions about doing the show. The two put away a few bottles of water during the process (“the hard stuff,” he joked).

At one point, “I asked him do you mind me asking you these questions? He said ‘No. Nobody ever asked me these questions before.’ It was a very gracious way for him to say that only the person sitting in that chair would care about the answers.”

At Letterman’s suggestion, Colbert has moved the desk on the set to the other side of the stage, he added.

Colbert also said Letterman made a point of showing him how to operate the brass-handled freight elevator that Letterman used to go from his office to the “Late Show” stage floor. The symbolism was not lost on Colbert. He said ‘there it is. Now it’s waiting for you.’ “

Colbert was part of another send off last week, Jon Stewart’s final installment of “The Daily Show,” the show that launched Colbert’s career in a big way.

“Daily Show” producers asked Colbert to deliver an on-air thank you to Stewart — something he knew would make Stewart squirm.

“I told producers he’s going flop around like a fish on the dock,” he said. “I felt like a rodeo clown trying to keep him on the stage.”

Afterwards, when the “Daily Show” alumni correspondents gathered around him in a big bear hug, Colbert revealed: “We were all chanting ‘Made him cry,'” he said. “It might be my favorite thing I did on the show.”

During the TCA Q&A, Colbert made a point of stopping to send several tweets, including one mocking a reporter for being a little too aggressive in trying to ask a question.

Among other topics touched on during the season:

  • Colbert said he choose George Clooney for his first guest “because he’s a brilliant actor and a great director and he cares about the world.”
  • John Batiste was selected as his musical director because of his deep roots in New Orleans jazz and his charisma. “I can’t wait to play off his energy on stage.”
  • His criteria for guests will be “somebody with something to say.” He enjoyed his forays into Washington and with politicians during the “Colbert Report” run but is happy to be able to drop the artifice because it was tiring. He’s done some field reporting already and “I’m not tired at the end. That’s really heartening.”
  • He shot down the notion that he’s entering a latenight “war” with his timeslot competitors. “Competition’s not that fun to me. We have fun with each other all day long” while producing the show. “I hope everybody does the same and has fantastic ratings. I don’t really care.”
  • The bulk of his “Colbert Report” writing and production staff has moved with him to CBS. A few of Letterman’s staffers are staying on, including music booker Sheryl Zilikson.
  • Asked whether he thought Trump had a legitimate shot at becoming President, Colbert paused and said “Honestly, he could.” And then he added that a president “with a giant swinging set of balls isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

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  1. Stephen, you are the consummate professional … Can’t wait to see you on the Late Show. It is about time someone new sits in that chair and brings a fresh perspective to the world! Here’ hoping to a long career with plenty of laughs and much happiness!

  2. Arnie Tracey says:

    You mean balls AND brains. Leaves Trumpty Dumpty out.

  3. Ralph says:

    Wow, look at all these conservatrolls bitching about Colbert.

    • Conservatives are afraid of Colbert because he skewers their agenda as well as Jon Stewart did. Once he has a larger audience on a national late night talk show, they’re going to be in his crosshairs, calling out their BS at every turn. I love how the wild success of The Daily Show has led to so many new voices calling out GOP hypocrisy; Larry Wilmore, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert and Stewart’s successor, Trevor Noah will all be joining in on the chorus against the GOP.

      Conservatives should be asking themselves why are there are so many opposition voices to Fox News. The answer is clear: it’s because if Fox News wasn’t so easily called out in the transparency of their 24/7 lies and obviously pandering agenda, then these four politically topical comedians wouldn’t have anything to write about.

      If Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the other Conservative media pundits were reasonable, sober tellers of truth, nothing they said could be even remotely made fun of. There would be no comedy in it.

      The more Fox and their nasty friends lie to our faces on a daily basis, the more comedic fodder they provide. Without their endless stream of BS Fox dishes out to their kept-in-the-dark “mushroom” audience, Stewart, Wilmore, Oliver, Colbert and Noah wouldn’t have enough material for a 30 second commercial, much less a whole daily or weekly show.

      • Jim Hawkins says:

        The type of liberal cynicism displayed by Stewart, Oliver, and Noah is a cheap excuse for the informative satire you are attributing them. Oliver continually addresses topics with unabashed liberal viewpoints. Noah plays the race card and perpetuates race mongering. And Stewart was completely reduced to simply making facial expressions at the end of his tenure as if his writers simply ran out of material.

        I have more enjoyment watching Greg Gutfield than I do any of those clowns. At least his material seems original and gutfelt (get it).

        While I disagree with many comments made by the folks like Limbaugh and agree that Beck gets a little preachy, painting conservatives with a wide brush is just as ignorant as some of the viewpoints you mentioned. Not to mention Fox News does not currently affiliate with Limbaugh or Beck, a point you ignore.

        It is also laughable that you think Fox viewers are “kept in the dark” and consist of a “mushroom” audience. It’s an old joke that got tiring during the Bush years when almost every network played a body count from the middle eastern wars as their headlines (talk about bias). Fox pulls more ratings than the next three cable news networks combined. I hardly consider that pandering to a small, radical, niche group of people.

        To suggest that Fox lies about the facts because it has conservative leaning pundits is to also suggest that MSNBC and CNN don’t lie about facts because they have liberal leaning pundits. Your argument is entirely flawed because both sides use facts and statistics in to support their arguments. It is the interpretations of the facts that compose the difference between the networks. If you think that news channels simply relay facts then you fundamentally misunderstand the 24-hr news channels we have in America. And, the fact that Stewart and Colbert do poke fun at liberal pinheads (notably, when Obama actually lied about his campaign promises and Weiner sending, well, wiener photos) shows that your argument faces contradiction as well. When faced with a contradiction, check your premises.

        Based on the fact that you have posted on almost every single person’s comment on this thread suggests that either you are a bum with nothing better to do than espouse political vitriol at your local library or you are some unpaid intern working for The Young Turks who got tasked with the mundane job of writing hack comments about every conservative commentator. I assure you, neither will get you any recognition in the real world.

  4. Harvey Weinstein says:

    He won’t even last as long as Conan Obrien did.

  5. Chili Boots says:

    THIS Guy is in for a Big Surprise; contrary to his presumption-of-interest, the American People have
    no stake in, nor fascination with, his Job Status, History nor Demeanor. This is a Minor Puppet with
    Delusions Aplenty. As a well-deserved kill-shot, he is also not funny, with or without the Big Red Nose.

    His entire “era” came, and went, while he was preening in the mirror. We don’t care, Slick. Not At All.

    ‘The World’ is not waiting for you. And George Clooney, as well as “Jon Stewart”, are collaborating
    proxies for the ‘Establishment’, as is the most arrogant ‘YOU’. Continue thinking you’re Hilarious.

    • You know how you can spot a Conservative Republican’s comments without even reading the obviously whack-a-doo content? It’s easy as pie, just look to see if there’s rampant, needless capitalization of words they feel are so important that they cry out to be capitalized.

      For example, let’s play “spot the crazy”:

      “THIS Guy is in for a Big Surprise; contrary to his presumption-of-interest, the American People have
      no stake in, nor fascination with, his Job Status, History nor Demeanor. This is a Minor Puppet with
      Delusions Aplenty. As a well-deserved kill-shot, he is also not funny, with or without the Big Red Nose.”

      See, kids? No need to infect your mind with the needless, harmful ramblings of an aged madman. Just count the capitals and if there’s more than one at the beginning of the sentence, feel free to ignore the entire post.

      Thanks, Chili Boots, for being a cautionary tale of idiocy.

      • Zoe says:

        Chili Boots, which conservative website directed you here? You are the one in for the Big Surprise. Colbert is extremely popular in the US, not only with liberals, but with millennials of all political persuasions, who recognize the Truth when they hear it. Your era is the one that has come and gone. He’s also not exactly a “preener” — that sounds like something you may be projecting onto him. He has allowed himself to look completely ridiculous more times than I can even count, which is something “preeners” don’t normally do.

  6. If you watch this guy enough you will see that he is at heart — MEAN.

    • Ohh, did the bad man hurt your feelings? Was Colbert mean to you by saying things that contradict your conservative worldview? I’m truly sorry.

      Colbert shouldn’t be saying horrible, hurtful things that make fun of conservative Republicans. Like when he calls out that it’s wrong that Christians discriminate against LGBT people or that the Confederate flag is an inherent symbol of racism. That makes you sad and I hope that you can find forgiveness in your heart for such a mean, nasty man that would trample on a Christian’s God-given right to discriminate and display their heritage of institutionalized cultural discrimination.

  7. Reblogged this on Thoughts Underfoot and commented:
    Sounds like Stephen is going to be bringing an emphasis on ideas to late night television–I know I’ll be tuning in!

  8. Who is this colbert and why does anyone care what he has to say?

  9. Ohh Ohh Colbert is going after Trump. I guess Trump should quit because of Colbert. Why Mr Colbert doesn’t man up and ask Trump an interview. So he can crack all those joke right on his face?

  10. John Ray says:

    As far as Donald Trump being that little boy, on You Tube there is a an episode of Twilight Zone from 1961 entitled “It’s a great life”. This little boy holds a group of people around him in mortal fear that they might say something to upset him in the slightest way because of his swift and devastating retribution. I hope the kid never grew up and ran for public office.

  11. Liberals hyperventilating for airtime. Can’t really defend their crop of old white guys and a future feminist criminal, so they’ll go after the diversity of the GOP.

    • I’m sorry… did you just say “diversity of the GOP”? Are you insane? If you want to find a crop of old white guys, look no farther than the GOP. Do you believe a tiny fraction of a percent of non-white voices in a literal sea of white faces makes the GOP “diverse? That’s an amazingly ludicrous statement, but one that doesn’t really surprise me. The only reason Colbert has enough material for an ongoing show is because of the torrential stream of hypocrisy and lies that flow 24/7 from the GOP propaganda machine, of which you are a but a tiny, willing cog therein.

  12. KDR says:

    Stephen Colbert is just one more reason NOT to watch late night TV.

  13. goatsandmonkeys says:

    Sorry he’s taking his writing staff. I never thought he was the least bit funny. The one thing done beautifully was his last show.

  14. James Heckel says:

    I thought he was moving the show to California. Glad he’s staying on the right coast.

  15. Charles Dumas says:

    Good luck. Can’t wait. You and John Stewart were the backbone and vocal chords of we American progressives. Thank you for your continued commitment and courage. Stay the course.

  16. Jonathon Richow says:

    If the chameleonic and comedic Colbert ‘veers off’ from his pretend-numbskull-white-conservative role into the actual realm of real numbskull-white-conservatives, then his show could tank with America’s poor, non-white, non-Christian demographic and stink up CBS for years.

    The last thing America needs is MORE networks run by old, angry, right wing white men explicitly tailored for the enjoyment of ONLY old, angry, white Americans.

    • Bobbi says:

      I’m unaware of what late night talk show, on any network, you’re referring to… Please enlighten us. I don’t recall there ever being one – what makes you think that will change?

  17. His criteria for guests will be “somebody with something to say.” “About whatever they may be promoting at the moment” he added.

  18. As always, Stephen is consummate at all that he sets his mind to achieve. His presence on The Daily Show Finale was a very touching moment between he and Jon. They have made us all feel as if they are our friends, and it was, and continues to be, big moments for both of them. We all wish you well in your new ventures!

  19. Candice says:

    Colbert’s a lame brain. All he does is Parrot other comics or the evening news. Nothing new here.

    • KWK says:

      Absolute nonsense. Did ya’ even see ONE episode of his old show??? He possesses a fierce intellect; he is the Thinking Person’s late night host.

  20. eqquesz says:

    So I guess a live, late night, knife fight would be out of line on the new show, eh? What ever happened to comedy @ it’s best? What about Free Guinness with gelatinous covered midgets and the Chelsea FC?

  21. Sean kenedy says:

    Also, let’s hope Colbert doesn’t kiss up to Megyn Kelly the queen of egotistical arrogance!! One need not look any further than to surmise or fathom by watch the cunning manipulative Megyn, set up her underhanded deceptive question to Trump, regarding women. How stupid does Fox network believe that the TV audience are, when all the butt kissing co-commentators kept address the subject of how badly and insulting Trump was to the Machiavellian Megyn? To add additional insult, please count the numerous times that the princesses of political manipulation in the post interviews also kept repeating, to all the other commentators and guest; that all the women in the country were very upset with Trump. It’s blatantly clear that all the fake make-up on the face of the unscrupulous Megyn face couldn’t hide her personal disdain for Trump. Her pompous, narcissistic is also obvious by spelling her name, Megyn as oppose to every other Megan..

    • John Smith says:

      1. Colbert is liberal, Kelly is conservative
      2. A journalist (even one from Fox News) shouldn’t be expected to “play nice” and solely ask planted questions
      3. Go take a first grade English class before you decide to insult any other people.

      • Zoe says:

        Uh, I believe Megyn is the name on her birth certificate. Nothing “pompous, narcissistic” about it.

        By the way, what country are you from? Not the US, and not Ireland. Your nom de plume doesn’t fit your your grammatical peculiarities.

      • George Marchand says:

        Amen, Sean.

  22. Rhonda says:

    Just hope he keeps up the musical guest he had on his old show. Real artist with something to say other than look at me I am rich and famous and have many super model friends!

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