The comedian steps into David Letterman's shoes – with a hint of his (non-political) Comedy Central persona

By Tom Gliatto
September 09, 2015 01:30 AM
Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS

Neo-non-conservative Stephen Colbert, wearing a fashionable near-cobalt-blue suit and with his hair slightly higher than in his years hosting The Colbert Report, launched his new career as host of The Late Show on CBS Tuesday. What he brought with him from Comedy Central were his dancing eyebrows and the air of a senatorial candidate having a psychotic meltdown – and perfectly happy about it.

This was a good thing. Potentially an excellent thing.

Colbert didn’t reinvent the talk show in the course of a single hour – his opening monologue wasn’t terribly interesting, but no opening monologue is: The damned thing is dutiful, obligatory and oblivious to time, like Queen Elizabeth.

Fourteen minutes in, though, the camera cut to what Colbert explained was a cursed amulet. It grumbled with a Stephen King-worthy groan that, said Colbert, required him to make an endorsement of red-pepper humus. Which he did.

This was so winning and absurd – he also stroked a monkey’s paw – that the rest of the hour, highs and lows, barely mattered.

He binged on Oreos while trying to mock Donald Trump, which only proved that even a skilled satirist and comic actor can’t laugh away Trump. Then George Clooney, with no project to promote, arrived as the inaugural guest: He was here mostly as Hollywood’s ambassador of how Hollywood wants to be seen by the rest of the world, and perhaps of how Clooney himself wants to be seen. Clooney was followed by Jeb Bush. The Republican’s give-and-take with Colbert was pleasant, sometimes funny, but a little too carefully cordial and respectful. And, really, what good is Jeb Bush as a guest, when the true “get” is Trump?

Trump’s political impact continues to be absolutely astounding. He’s the elephant in the room plus the 800-lb. gorilla. And that’s not even with the hair.

In any event, this was a turning point in late-night television. With new hosts in place across all the networks, America finally reached the end of the Johnny CarsonJay Leno-David Letterman saga, television’s equivalent of the Trojan War.

Letterman has said he wasn’t consulted about his replacement, but Colbert seems likely to have been the right choice.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airs at 11:35 p.m. ET on CBS.

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