Entertainment Television

Why Stephen Colbert is the new king of late-night TV

By Jane Stevenson, Postmedia Network

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert during Thursday's 11/3/16 show in New York. (Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert during Thursday's 11/3/16 show in New York. (Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)

There’s no doubt about it: Trump winning the coveted U.S. election as top boss is comedy gold – especially if you’re Stephen Colbert.

The politically astute host of CBS and Global’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert recently won five straight weeks of ratings over NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, becoming the new late-night king in the process with ratings up about 10 per cent from the same time last year.

To put it in perspective, the last time The Late Show beat The Tonight Show was seven years ago when the beloved and revered David Letterman was still host while Fallon was toiling as Conan O’Brien’s replacement on NBC’s Late Night.

The reason for the late night shift (no pun intended) seems to be that Colbert is going where Fallon fears to tread: Politics.

Fallon famously ruffled U.S. President Donald Trump’s ‘orangutan’ hair in a segment interview during his pre-presidency, which earned Fallon the thumbs down from Letterman in a New York magazine interview:  “I don’t want to criticize Jimmy Fallon, but in that situation: I would have gone to work on Trump.” 

Fallon, whose ratings are down 17 per cent from last year, has been trying to play catch-up with Colbert with a bad Trump impression and a new segment called This Week in Words but so far it doesn’t appear to be resonating with audiences.

Here are our five reasons to watch Colbert, if you haven’t done so already since his September 2015 launch.

1. He’s a long-time political satirist

The Washington, D.C.-born, South Carolina-raised comic was a breakout star on Comedy Central’s news satire series The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He was so successful that Comedy Network later spun Colbert’s Bill O’ Reilly-inspired correspondent character off as the host of The Colbert Report, which became the network’s highest-rated show. Colbert earned a Peabody Award and also scored 6 Emmy Awards for Best Writing and Variety Show, though he has yet to win as Outstanding Host (Thanks, Jon Stewart!). The bespectacled host also has two Grammys on his mantle for Best Spoken Word Album and Best Comedy Album. 

Moreover, his breakout success on The Colbert Report led him to a controversially hosting gig at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2006, where he was as critical of the media as he was of George W. Bush’s reign as commander-in-chief. His Late Show monologues and Saturday Night Live-esque open sketches basically analyze, inform and ultimately make fun of the Trump news of the day.

2 . He’s funny AND he can sing and dance

 As an adolescent, Colbert briefly fronted a Rolling Stones cover band before becoming a theatre major. There, he discovered improv when he met mentor Del Close at Northwestern University. Two of the funniest and most memorable Late Show bits Colbert produced happened during the 2016 Republican National Convention. Fans still recall when Colbert kicked off with a big song-and-dance number, “This week you and me, we will witness history, as the RNC, crowns their orange manatee!” And who could forget this gem: Colbert dressing as The Hunger Games’ Caesar Flickerman who stormed the RNC stage declaring: “Look, I know I am not supposed to be up here but let’s be honest, neither is Donald Trump.”

3 . He’s a sharp yet empathetic interviewer

Colbert can wear his heart on his sleeve, like when he interviewed Vice-President Joe Biden on his third ever Late Night in a remarkable bit of TV. Both men had suffered losses: Biden’s first wife and child were killed in a 1972 car accident; while Colbert’s father and two of his brothers were died in a plane crash when he was just 10. If that wasn’t enough heartbreak to bond the two men, Biden had just lost his adult son to brain cancer when he appeared opposite Colbert, who beautifully navigated the interview focusing on Biden’s “suffering and service.”

4. He loves the Lord of the Rings

Geek alert! When his father and brothers died, Colbert retreated into the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien as he famously interviewed the fictional Smaug the Dragon on The Colbert Report; posed as three LOTR characters on the cover of Entertainment Weekly; cameo’d in LOTR: The Desolation of Smaug; and most recently, asked LOTR’s Viggo Mortensen: “Can I live with you?” (FYI: Mortensen’s sword is displayed on the Late Show set.)

5. He’s religious

One of 11 from an Irish Catholic family, and a Sunday school teacher, Colbert’s religious background frequently comes up during interviews but it never comes across as preachy. One of the better interviews was between him and atheist Ricky Gervais debating the existence of God. I mean, where else are you going to see that on late-night TV?