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Stephen Colbert has continued his live shows tied to the Republican and Democratic conventions with DNC programs this week.
But one thing missing from this week’s episodes (apart from an appearance by Jon Stewart) is Colbert’s Colbert Report character, also named “Stephen Colbert.”
The Comedy Central mainstay made his triumphant return to television last week, delivering one of the Colbert Report‘s signature “The Word” segments about “Trumpiness.”
But on Wednesday night’s Late Show, the real Stephen Colbert indicated that Comedy Central’s legal team is barring his old character from appearing on CBS.
“This is true, immediately after that show, CBS’ top lawyer was contacted by the top lawyer for another company to say that the character Stephen Colbert is their intellectual property,” the real Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday.
He continued, “So it is with a heavy heart that I announce that thanks to corporate lawyers, the character Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, will never be seen again.”
The audience began to boo but the Late Show host insisted there was nothing he could do.
“I feel the same way, but what can I do? The lawyers have spoken. I cannot reasonably argue I own my face or name,” he said. “And as much as I’d like to have that guy on again, I can’t.”
But the real Stephen Colbert wasn’t about to let a little legal dispute prevent him from having someone who looked a lot like his Colbert Report character — rimless glasses, raised eyebrow and all — from appearing on his show.
On Wednesday night, he introduced, live via satellite from Philadelphia, “Stephen Colbert’s identical twin cousin,” who showed up wearing a short-sleeved American flag shirt and saying, “Hello, America! Hello, Colbert country! Stay strong. Be brave.”
The new character insisted he was “totally different” from his cousin who hosted the Colbert Report for a decade.
“This is my first appearance on TV ever,” he said, and he offered his services as a permanent Late Show correspondent.
“I’m happy to be here tonight to save this country and join the Late Show team,” he said. “Whenever you need me, wild horses ridden by corporate lawyers could not keep me away.”
The Late Show host then introduced a new segment that also looked suspiciously similar to a Colbert Report mainstay: “The Werd.”
CBS and Comedy Central declined to comment on the legal issues Colbert referenced, but The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed that Comedy Central parent company Viacom protested to CBS about the use of the character and material.
Colbert also regularly pokes fun at CBS’ censorship, voicing his annoyance with the network’s “odd prudishness” in a recent THR cover story.
“Like I said ‘sturcus usu venit’ on air. OK,” Colbert told THR. “That means loosely in Latin, ‘shit happens.’ It literally means ‘dung it comes to pass.’ Like it’s a really terrible way of saying shit happens. And CBS is like, ‘Well, we have to bleep that.’ I’m like, ‘It’s in Latin! I am not sturcus-ing you on that one. I mean, NCIS can stack up hookers like cord wood, but heaven forbid I say ‘goddamn it’ or ‘asshole.’ By the way, you bleep ‘hole,’ not ‘ass.’”
Colbert also told THR that he saw his old character as a “tool” to be used judiciously, indicating he didn’t want to overdo it with appearances from the popular Colbert Report host. He also expressed concern about going back to something from the past.
“Hopefully [the audience] won’t be like, ‘Huh? That’s a different show. Wasn’t that 18 months ago? Why haven’t you moved on?’,” he said.
Colbert is still figuring out how to move on without the character and perhaps creating a new one, much like the correspondent Colbert started out as on The Daily Show, will help with that.
July 28, 9:03 a.m. Updated with Comedy Central declining to comment.
July 28, 10:15 a.m. Updated with confirmation of Viacom objection.
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