Stephen Colbert Reveals New Show Will Let Viewers Learn Who He Really Is
The incoming 'Late Show' host also talked to 'Time' magazine about the renovated, more intimate theater and how he's deciding what he'll do on the show.
Stephen Colbert graces the cover of this week's Time, and inside the magazine, the incoming Late Show host gives viewers more of a sense of what to expect from his CBS late-night show, premiering Sept. 8. Plus, after spending years playing a conservative character on Comedy Central, he talked about who he really is — and how viewers will find that out.
Much remains unknown about what the Colbert-hosted Late Show will be like. While details have started to trickle out as Colbert has begun doing press and his first-week guest lineup has been revealed, the new host still is keeping some things under wraps.
For instance, he told Time of the opening credits, in an edited transcript of his remarks that didn't make it into the cover story: "I can’t tell you anything that’s going to be visual, but I can tell you that it was important to me that the city itself, New York, is part of the character of these shows, the energy of being in the city. We’re trying to capture some of the energy, the energy of a day of New York in the opening credits. And that’s what it’s about. It’s all over New York. We’re shooting all over the city."
Like in Union Square, perhaps, as a recent weekend tweet from Colbert indicated?
And he offered this, regarding how he thinks about what he'll do on the show: "You have to basically sift through what you like and what you don’t like about performing or what you really enjoy about your relationship with an audience. I have to give myself the patience to literally use my imagination and go, 'When I close my eyes, what would I enjoy seeing as a consumer?' I don’t mean that as like market-testing consumer, I’m literally a fan of comedy. What do I want to see on TV?"
In one of a handful of videos that accompanies the cover story, Colbert talks in great detail about how the Ed Sullivan Theater was renovated to create a more intimate atmosphere. Specifically, he said he wanted to be able to see everyone in the audience, just as he could in the Colbert Report studio.
"The music that Jon Batiste is going to be playing during the commercial break, I want to sing along with him and I want the whole audience to sing along and I want us to look in each others' eyes as we sing along," Colbert said. "I want that connection. I do the show to meet the audience every night."
He also thought about whether his focus should be on the studio audience or the camera: "Am I performing for the room that the camera is capturing, or am I performing for a camera that the room gets to see? That’s the question. I have an instinct as to which one of those it is, but I won’t know until I do it." And he thought about how many "play spaces" he wanted and whether that will include his balcony, among other things.
"The set can’t be the star, but it still has to be very attractive," explained Colbert. "In some ways, we want the set to look like look that great new apartment Stephen got — 'I know why he took that show, I’d love to live there.' It’s like we’re inviting you into my new pad without denying the existence of the theater. That’s the challenge: Can you create a set that lives within the reality that you’re in a theater, but still has the intimacy? The show is extremely intimate, so you want a guide. How do you maintain that intimacy while acknowledging you’re in a Broadway theater at the same time?"
Part of the show's content will include letting viewers learn about the real Stephen Colbert through a series called "Who Am Me?"
"We’ve got a series of field pieces, packages that are ways for me to try to figure out who [the real Stephen Colbert] is, as if I don’t know who I am," Colbert told Time. "The unexamined life can be extremely enjoyable, and who knows if I do know who I am? We’re going to see whether I do. I’ll have my own suppositions as to what these answers might be from people and see if their memory of me is the same or whether the police investigator we hired to investigate me finds out."
The series will include a talk with Colbert's favorite elementary-school teacher, whom he reveals he "had such a crush on" — but he hasn't seen her since 1974.
"I can’t believe that they found her," Colbert told Time. "She moved away when I was 10, and then she came back just recently, so they found her down in Charleston."
So who is the real Stephen Colbert? He has some ideas, describing himself as "Microsoft Christian," due to his Catholic beliefs.
“I am a white, male, straight, Christian — Catholic, so, you know, Microsoft Christian — American, who enjoys McDonald’s and Coca-Cola," he told Time. "For a lot of American history, I am American neutral. It makes me wonder why that is or whether that’s a good thing, but it’s also a great place to do comedy from because it oddly separates me from what I imagine a comedian is supposed to be. I am comfortably integrated into American society, and yet I am in a business that’s full of outsiders.”
Colbert also explained, as he has before, that he picked David Letterman's brain for an hour and a half before the former Late Show host signed off. And after their meeting in Letterman's office, after which Letterman showed Colbert how to use the freight elevator to get down to the theater, Colbert had a moment in which he realized that no matter what he does to prepare, the real test will come on Sept. 8.
"After that, I went across the street, got myself a cup of coffee and looked at the theater from the outside for about an hour, and I realized that nothing we do right now really matters," said Colbert. "I mean, we’ll do our best to have a good design and a good logo and a good marquee and hire all the right people and have the right sound and the right guests. But it doesn’t really matter until you go and do it. Everything is theory. As Yogi Berra beautifully said, ‘In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.’ ”