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Pop Culture Happy Hour: Stephen Colbert's Return And Great Talk-Show Guests

Vice President Joe Biden and Stephen Colbert.
Jeffrey R. Staab
Vice President Joe Biden and Stephen Colbert.

On Sept. 8, Stephen Colbert made his debut in David Letterman's spot as host of CBS's Late Show, a role he took over after Letterman's retirement and the conclusion of his own nine-year run at the helm of Comedy Central's Colbert Report. This week's Pop Culture Happy Hour panel — Glen Weldon, Code Switch lead blogger Gene Demby, super-librarian Margaret H. Willison and me — is unanimous in its fondness for Colbert, but our feelings for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert are mixed.

I'm mostly fond of the show overall, and particularly appreciate Colbert's affability, but the rest of the panel isn't onboard — with the late-night talk-show format most of all. Margaret was mostly bored with the show and, though she liked its music, would rather digest late-night shows in Internet-friendly bites the next day. Glen cites this piece in The New Yorker by Emily Nussbaum, who eviscerates the genre. Gene mentions two more articles — one a Colbert profile in GQ, the other a Vanity Fair story surveying the late-night landscape — and delves into the homogeneity of today's late-night host crop. But we've also got some words of praise for some of Colbert's bits, for the way the best stuff is given room to breathe, and for Colbert's tremendous interview with Vice President Joe Biden.

Then it's on to a related topic: a discussion of what makes a great talk-show guest. Humor, spontaneity, gameness, rapport and a quick wit are all deemed helpful, but Glen also offers a useful spectrum — and prefers his guests to stay on its extreme ends. We talk a little about everyone from Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Poehler to Harvey Pekar and Charles Grodin, with a lot in between, and even dredge up a few old talk shows along the way. Regis & Kelly! Jiminy Glick! Byron Allen! Chris Farley! Also, I have some thoughts on what happens When Hosts Flirt.

Finally, as always, we close with What's Making Us Happy this week. Margaret brings a list, which includes a podcast Linda has praised before (and this related article), a podcast none of us have mentioned before (and this related "pop banger"), and John Hodgman's Vacationland tour (and this related TV special). Gene is psyched about a deluxe version of one of his favorite recent albums. Glen saw and loved a Kumail Nanjiani live show, recommends this Spalding Gray monologue, and discusses his obsession with this feature from this gaming website. And I, after bragging about finally quitting Diet Coke, describe my recent journey down a Jon Batiste rabbit hole — most notably this performance for NPR Music.

Find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter: the show, me, Glen, Margaret, Gene, absent Linda, producer Jessica, and pal and producer emeritus Mike.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)

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