Stephen! Stephen! Stephen! That is the noise you will hear every weekday night at 11:35 for decades to come if The Late Show with Stephen Colbert remains at any level close to what it has been its opening week. During a period of not only weak late night hosts, but also not so stellar network television, the new late show gives people a reason to watch CBS. Colbert is not only catering to the interests of the younger generation, but he is doing it with a style contradictory to late show host conventions, which we will discuss later on. Colbert is able to interact with his guests in a fashion that permits them to become the facilitator of the interview, creating more engaging discussions.
Over the course of the last 22 years, David Letterman crafted an icon of American Television. This icon should definitely be praised but should not be mirrored in today’s society. Letterman’s show was so successful for so long because he was able to address the essence of an audience that no longer exists. A majority of the country has adopted a new attitude, and the values that the people hold are very different from those that were held when people enjoyed Letterman’s show. This audience is not interested in static monologues that take up a large portion of the show every night. This audience wants a compilation of short skits and funny moments that they can share with their friends the next day on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook (the same idea Jimmy Fallon has been relying on). This is what CBS realized when they hired Colbert, so instead of going with another comedian to tell jokes, they went with a performer. Not just any performer, but a performer whose skits have generated over 22 million views on YouTube since the show launched last week.
The most intriguing part about Colbert’s skits is that they are strikingly unique from one another, whether it be demolishing packages of Oreos or making new decrees wearing the “Genghis Khan hat”. These skits are also all singular segments instead of running skits like Letterman’s old “top ten”, which burnt out the audience over the years.
Colbert’s style also resonates with the younger generation in an important way as well. Throughout the last few decades, the most successful genre of comedy has been self-deprecating. From stand up comics like Rodney Dangerfield, to television shows like Seinfeld, to every late night host of the last twenty years, they all rely on poking fun at themselves in order to produce laughs. This model was so successful for so long because of a key value of previous generations: the idea that bragging is wrong because when you tell people how great you are, you are impolite. This value is now lost on the modern audience who looks to share their Snapchats and tweets that prove how interesting their life is. This is not a phenomenon that is just showing up either; it is engrained in our culture. It can be seen in nearly every celebrity at the top of their class, including athletes like Floyd Mayweather and Richard Sherman, or Musicians like Kanye West or Drake. This is a concept Colbert understands well, and he takes it to a new level. He creates a sense of self-awareness, so he is able to capitalize on the popularity of acting stuck up, without receiving any backlash, because it is so extreme it becomes satire. Colbert used a similar method on The Colbert Report, where he merged this similar style with a hyper-Republican persona.
While it is great that Colbert’s style can draw in a new audience, this is not going to keep him relevant forever when a new generation emerges. Fortunately for him, his interviews with celebrities will, and he has definitely shown that he can generate very fascinating interviews. Usually, with late night hosts, they focus on jamming in their own jokes to make the interviews unique. This is the biggest pitfall for hosts, because they are too concerned with making themselves heard. They limit what their guests are able to say and we end up with lackluster surface level interviews. In contrast, Colbert speaks selectively and in a style that does not detract from the interview, but encourages the guest to continue and elaborate deeper. This style of interviewing obviously appeals to celebrities, and has allowed Colbert to book several A-list celebrities over the next week, including George Clooney, Jeb Bush, Scarlet Johansson, Elon Musk, Kendrick Lamar, Joe Biden, Stephen King, Jake Gyllenhall, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Curry, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump.
If it’s not apparent by now, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is the first subject to receive 5 out of 5 reels from Celluloid Cinema. With the command Colbert’s comedic style has over his audience, mixed with his powerful interviewing skills, Colbert definitely has proven his right to be Letterman’s successor. Mark my words; in a few months Colbert will indisputably be the top late night host on television.
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