Stephen Colbert Revives Right-Wing Persona To Mark Start Of GOP Convention

Jul 19, 2016
Originally published on July 19, 2016 6:18 pm
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Stephen Colbert, who hosts "The Late Show" on CBS, brought back a familiar character last night on his first live program from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Stephen Colbert was the old Stephen Colbert. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's what his show has been missing since Colbert took over from David Letterman.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: When "The Late Show" first announced it would present two weeks of live shows centered on the Republican and Democratic conventions, I wondered - how would Colbert handle this? Now it seems obvious, at least for the first show. They've resurrected Colbert's old Comedy Central program, "The Colbert Report."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

STEPHEN COLBERT: Hello nation.

(APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: Did you miss me? I know I did.

DEGGANS: It's been about a year and a half since we've seen the blustery right-wing pundit character Colbert played on "The Colbert Report." When he returned Monday night he revived a classic moment from the very first "Colbert Report" episode where Colbert redefined how we talk about politics and news by creating a new word.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

COLBERT: Eleven years ago I invented a word, truthiness (ph). You see...

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: ...Truthiness is believing something that feels true even if it isn't supported by fact.

DEGGANS: Last night, Colbert coined another new word inspired by GOP nominee Donald Trump to describe a political world beyond truthiness called Trumpiness (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

COLBERT: Truthiness has to feel true, but Trumpiness doesn't even have to do that. In fact...

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: ...Many Trump supporters don't believe his wildest promises, and they don't care.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: Earlier in the show, Colbert's old character was introduced in a skit featuring his old boss, former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart. The bit featured Colbert visiting a cabin in the woods, finding Stewart in a beard and old bathrobe surprised to learn that Trump was the GOP nominee.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

JON STEWART: The guy who did a McDonald's commercial with the Grimace?

COLBERT: Same guy.

STEWART: The guy who filed for bankruptcy in 1991?

COLBERT: And '92.

STEWART: And 2004.

COLBERT: And 2009.

STEWART: That guy?

COLBERT: Yes.

DEGGANS: It all feels like a call back to the days when Colbert and Stewart were at the center of the pop culture zeitgeist, sharply challenging political and media institutions. More recently, Colbert struggled to define CBS's "Late Show" and himself. On "The Colbert Report" when the host needed to make a cutting, incisive point, he could do it as his blowhard character. As himself, Colbert's a nicer guy, so those moments have come less frequently.

He has, however, been pretty tough on Trump, which continued last night. In fact, Monday offered a hint of how a little of that old "Colbert Report" impertinence could elevate "The Late Show." In a pre-taped segment, Colbert hopped on the RNC stage in Cleveland before the convention began. He was decked out in a blue wig and eyebrows like the TV host character from "The Hunger Games," giving the RNC a new name.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

COLBERT: So it is my honor to hereby launch and begin the 2016 Republican National Hungry for Power Games.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: Look, look, I know I'm not supposed to be up here, but let's be honest, neither is Donald Trump.

DEGGANS: Other comedy shows will offer some special coverage of the RNC this week, including "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah," Bill Maher's "Real Time," Samantha Bee's program, "Full Frontal," and a special edition of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update. But Colbert struck first, earning a ratings boost and new creative juice with a live show that reminded us just how effective and entertaining a satirist he can be when he takes the gloves off. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.