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Ahead of Tuesday night’s premiere of CBS’ new Stephen Colbert-hosted Late Show, the new host has offered a few hints about what his late-night program will be like and has made a number of media appearances as himself, the real Stephen Colbert, shedding the conservative-pundit character he played for years on Comedy Central.
But while Colbert has been the subject of a number of interviews, he hasn’t been the interviewer on nearly as many occasions. Sure, he interviewed guests four nights a week for 10 years on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, but that was as Stephen Colbert the character, so what will the real Stephen Colbert, the interviewer, be like?
The incoming Late Show host has showed off his interviewing skills at a few select public appearances over the past year, conducting Q&As with Jon Stewart and Steve Carell at live events and with Richard Gere, Mavis Staples and George Lucas at the Montclair and Tribeca film festivals, respectively. He also interviewed Eminem and Michigan cable-access hosts Michelle Bowman and Kaye Lani Rae Rafko Wilson when he secretly hosted an episode of Only in Monroe earlier this summer. And he sat down with frequent Colbert Report guest Neil deGrasse Tyson for an online video chat about the New Horizons Pluto photos that emerged this summer.
During those sit-downs, Colbert revealed himself to be an informed and curious interviewer, willing to call people out humorously on things they said, from their mom being a fan of Richard Gere to their claim that they can paint two fingernails while waiting at a red light (leading him to challenge them to an on-air manicure-off, as he did with Bowman on Only in Monroe).
So before Colbert chats with George Clooney and “cooks” with Jeb Bush, his first-night Late Show guests, take a look back at four videos of the real Stephen Colbert interviewing Bowman, Wilson and Eminem; Tyson; Lucas; and Gere.
Only in Monroe interview with Michelle Bowman, Kaye Lani Rae Rafko Wilson and Eminem: Earlier this summer, Colbert and his team went to Monroe, Mich., and secretly did their “first show” for 12 viewers at midnight, guest-hosting local cable access program Only in Monroe. The idea, Colbert later explained to GQ in one of several interviews he did ahead of Tuesday night’s premiere, was to get over the pressure of the idea of the “first show” by just doing it somewhere. “Since my last show ended in December, I’ve been itching to host a talk show again, but my new theater’s not ready yet, so I decided to head over to Monroe, Mich., look around and give it a Michigander,” Colbert said on air, before pausing to water a potted plant in front of the on-set TV monitor.
Colbert masterfully stepped into the role of Only in Monroe host, clearly having brushed up on the town’s news and history, as he joked about local current events and presented the Monroe community calendar. He also interviewed the show’s regular hosts, Bowman and Rafko Wilson, and “a local Michigander who is making a name for himself in the competitive world of music, Marshall Mathers.” Along with Bowman and Rafko Wilson, Colbert shared some wine — or “water,” for children watching — calling them the Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb of Only in Monroe, and asked them humorous questions like, “What happens if you feature something on Only in Monroe, but then you find out it happened somewhere else? Do you have to issue a retraction?” and, to former Miss America Rafko Wilson, “When you won Miss America in 1988, what was the biggest surprise to you? Was it that you had no legislative power?” He also competed with Bowman to see who could paint more fingernails in 42 seconds, the average legal length of a stoplight, after Bowman said on a previous show that she could paint two nails per red light.
With Eminem, though, whom Colbert addressed as “Marshall Mathers” throughout the interview, it’s still not clear how much the rapper was in on the host’s decision to pretend Mathers was an up-and-coming artist of whom Colbert had never heard. Colbert began by quizzing Mathers on his knowledge of Bob Seger and asking him about his musical style — “more sing-songy like Bone Thugs” or “street like Will Smith,” “more political” or “booty rhymes?” In both categories, Mathers said he was “in the middle.” Things got really awkward and tense, though, when Colbert asked Mathers what his “fallback position” is if “the dream dies” and his music career is no longer able to “pay the rent.”
“I’m so confused right now,” said Mathers. “I’m trying to figure out if you’re serious. … You really don’t know? I mean, I put out quite a few albums.”
Colbert told him, “I’d like to apologize if you are a bigger deal than I know about. Here’s the thing — this is on my research people — I want to know who you are. I just don’t know who you are.”
Then, to a visibly angry Mathers: “You seem pretty mad.”
Mathers insisted, “I’m not mad at all,” before the two of them talked about his music for Southpaw, with Colbert quizzing him on “Phenomenal’s” lyrics: “I am phenomenal. However long it takes, I’ll go to whatever lengths. It’s going to make me a monster, though.”
Colbert wondered whether it’s possible to be “phenomenal” and “not lose your humanity,” which he says he hopes to do with the Late Show. Mathers offered, “You have to find a balance,” adding that he “meditates.”
“I’m meditating right now because this is really f—ing weird,” added Mathers.
Colbert’s online video interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson about New Horizons’ new Pluto photos: Weeks after his Only in Monroe sit-down with Eminem, Colbert talked to frequent Colbert Report guest Neil deGrasse Tyson about the newly released photos of Pluto following the July 14 flyby from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, in light of Tyson supporting Pluto’s “demotion from a real planet to a dwarf planet.” As Colbert pushed Tyson about why the new photos and info about Pluto aren’t super cool, he was jokingly combative, snatching the Pluto photos back from Tyson after he took them to illustrate a point and then pulling out his cellphone and fact-checking Tyson.
But he also stopped Tyson when he started talking about complicated concepts to break them down in simpler terms, like “a marble in a drain” and “Nascar … drafting.” Tyson also went along with Colbert’s humorous tangents. The two ended the video talking about Tyson’s upcoming guests on his StarTalk radio show while enjoying Klondike bars.
Colbert’s chat with George Lucas at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival: The Star Wars superfan and self-proclaimed nerd conducted an hourlong discussion with Lucas, talking about everything from Lucas’ early career and how he started making movies to Lucas’ plan to get back into making experimental fare, using the money the Star Wars legend has made not for a yacht, but for future filmmaking endeavors, to what he thinks about J.J. Abrams‘ upcoming Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. Colbert was quick and funny, responding to Lucas sneezing with “May the force be with you” and starting their chat by joking, “I’m gonna tear you a new one. … How dare you entertain me consistently since I was 13 years old?!”
Colbert’s Q&A with Richard Gere at the 2015 Montclair Film Festival: Shortly after his Lucas chat, Colbert ventured back across the Hudson River to New Jersey to conduct a Q&A with Richard Gere at the Montclair Film Festival, which Colbert long has supported. (He also interviewed Mavis Staples at the 2015 fest.) The conversation, tied to Gere’s new movie, Time Out of Mind, which was playing in Montclair as part of its festival run ahead of its theatrical release on Sept. 9, at one point delved into the concept of what’s real and whether there’s an objective reality. “It’s the nature of the surface of our experience anyhow that can’t be trusted,” said Gere. “The surface is not reliable for any of us. Our eyes are lying to us.”
When Colbert asked what he meant by that, Gere went on to outline his belief that people can’t view things in a fresh way and that your perception of what you see is based on the past experiences that your brain has cataloged.
“We’re only seeing our own mind. So all the prejudices, experiences, things in the catalog — we make the initial fresh event fit the category descriptions in our head,” said Gere. “We don’t have an experience of the world. We have an experience of our experiences. This is all a virtual world. The whole thing is virtual, based on our own brain.”
Colbert, picking up on the Matrix-like concept, quickly asked, “Is this The Matrix? Are you Neo? I know kung fu.”
But it turns out Gere actually does believe something similar to that, saying that he and his son, who was also at the Montclair event, often talk about that.
“This is totally virtual Matrix experience,” said the actor.
Colbert, who seemed to have thoroughly researched Gere’s career and asked specific questions about the film, appeared baffled by the actor’s “objective reality” beliefs. “You are blowing my mind, Richard Gere,” he said at one point.
Colbert also made a running joke out of Gere having a large contingent of fans who were somebody’s mother.
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