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After producing 211 episodes remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, the late night show returned before audience members — the Ed Sullivan Theater can seat over 400 — who had to provide proof of full vaccination, though masks were optional. In the opening moments of Monday night’s show following the cold open, host Stephen Colbert embraced bandleader and musical director Jon Batiste as the in-person audience cheered and chanted “Ste-phen, Ste-phen.”
“So how you been? It’s great to be back. We never really left. But we certainly weren’t here. This is a slightly different energy than the converted storage room eight floors above us, as lovely as that was,” Colbert told his audience. Comparing the return to the stage to a nerve-wracking first day back at school, the host joked that the production had installed “Remember how to applaud” signs for the audience. “I don’t know if I even remember how to pander to the most beautiful crowd in the world,” Colbert said.
Colbert also fit in a jab aimed at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who he said has made the show’s return to a full audience possible. Colbert claimed to have a note from the governor which read, “If you remember me for one thing this year, let it be bringing back the Late Show’s audience. That’s it.” The show also projected images of the Late Show staff that made the show happen during the pandemic on the theater’s dome.
The show made the most of its full-audience return in other ways: Monday’s cold open showed Colbert getting dressed for the episode and forgetting to don pants. His pants then began speaking, counseling Colbert about his trepidation to return to traditional office wear. Before long, the pants erupted into a song (“When you do your show / it would be apropos / that we would go out together”) and Colbert and the pants sang a duet.
During a segment called “The Vax-Scene,” Colbert and a group of dancers in shot costumes danced among the audience.
And Colbert brought his wife, Evelyn McGee-Colbert, onstage, who for a time amid the pandemic was Colbert’s only live audience member: “Audience, he’s all yours now. And don’t forget to laugh because he really needs it,” she said.
Comedian Dana Carvey also made an appearance playing President Joe Biden and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart stopped by as a guest: “There’s nothing I wanted to do more than breathe everyone’s air,” Stewart joked.
In recent weeks, Colbert has been filming the show from a small venue within the theater’s building with crew members that the show said were tested on a regular basis, a standard that will continue as the show returns to its full audience.
The Late Show joined the roster of other late night shows, such as Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, that have returned to their original locations and brought back in-person audiences. Some talk shows, including Good Morning America and The Daily Show, are still being produced without live audiences. The Late Show returned to a full audience in adherence with recent changes to New York’s COVID-19 restrictions.
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