Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Too Late for Colbert

Stephen Colbert – the comedian, not the faux conservative windbag – made it official about succeeding David Letterman as host of The Late Night Show. It is too late for me.


Colbert is unquestionably a rare comic talent. I’m sure he will do well in his new role, if he can stand the unrelenting, enervating string of insipid interviews with self-important people, which is its own form of satire.

I will miss Colbert’s Comedy Central character, who espoused a lot of the same nonsense as Fox News, but with a lot more humor (and disbelief). It was like watching a version of Bill O’Reilly that you could laugh with, not at.

I depended on Colbert and his creative team to brief me on what the other side was saying and why it was full of holes or hot air, but that won’t be his job sitting behind David Letterman’s desk and reputation. His audience won’t be a niche crowd, but a highly valued chunk of the Nielsen ratings.

Colbert possesses impressive and certainly unique interviewing skills. He got people to play along with the gag on The Colbert Report, but he may not find the same ready takers on the Late Night Show. They are often ridiculous, but want to be taken seriously.

yang_nyt_colbert_shots_250_FFFPerhaps Colbert can reprise his conservative persona in an occasional Late Night Show sketch, but it is hard to see him restarting his own “super” political action committee to show how to subvert election disclosure laws. CBS may not find that funny.

The Late Night Show set may undergo a personality change, but probably never will resemble the Colbert Report shrine. And Colbert may never again be the namesake of a newly discovered comet, spider or Space Station treadmill.

With Colbert’s switch to a new late-night television studio, I feel as if I’m losing a friend who is moving to a new city. I will seldom see him because at my age I fall asleep by 10 p.m. on good nights. Comedy Central ran The Colbert Report, admittedly a day late, at the reasonable hour of 7 p.m. I know I can record the late-night show and watch it any time, but the number of times I recorded Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon equals zero. It’s a hard habit to break.

Without much prodding, I could argue that Colbert’s departure from illusion to delusion is a national loss. One of the best mirrors put up to our collective national face will be tucked away in a fake TV set desk drawer.

It will be inevitable that Colbert cultivates an onstage sidekick. I nominate Aasid Mandvi, a correspondent on The Daily Show, who by his own admission copies how outrageously Colbert performed when he was a Daily Show correspondent. If Colbert has to appear interested in tedious small-talk, Mandvi could remind us what Colbert used to be like.

ColbertLetterman had his signature Top 10 List, which means Colbert will have to come up with his signature schtick. Maybe it could be the Top 10 People Who Bore Us to Death on late-night television.

The new format should allow Colbert to spread his musical wings. After all, he will have his own band to jam with.

My best advice for Colbert is to remember the lessons he taught to the highly successful 2010 U.S. Winter Olympics speed skating team when he served as assistant sports psychologist. Whatever advice he gave apparently worked. He will need all the therapy he can get in his new job.

If I were Colbert, despite the new 5-year contract, I would hold on to my Sunday School job.


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