The Late Show host said there are “wild violations of norms going on all the time that, inch by inch, are eroding our standards as a nation.” Colbert further spoke about anxiety, his Catholic faith and his transition from his Colbert Report persona to working on The Late Show, including CBS’ limitations on profanity.
For The Colbert Report, which ran on Comedy Central from 2005-2014, Colbert explained that he parodied himself as “the American neutral” as a straight, white Christian man, adding it would be difficult to do that character today because it’s “an actual political position now.”
It took about six months into The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, which premiered in September 2015 following David Letterman’s retirement, for Colbert to “reinvent” a new way to do his show. He acknowledged that his previous persona was very political and from a subjective point of view: “I never in my entire life had done something as myself.”
Colbert said it’s “much easier now than the old show” because he doesn’t have to get out of character. However, he said it made him happy when people bought “the surface level” of his conservative onscreen personality.
“I was thrilled when people at home thought I meant it,” said Colbert, who is from South Carolina. He joked that Donald Trump has “stolen a lot of my lines” from his Colbert Report days.
Despite expressing his political viewpoints on his show, Colbert assured that his goal for The Late Show is to create a community and “make everybody feel better.” “When we’re laughing, we’re not afraid,” he explained. “I don’t think what I’m saying is important, I don’t think it’s going to change people’s minds, I don’t think I’m a political player.”
Colbert reflected on new limitations to his material, in particular, with CBS’ restrictions on profanity. He lamented that he can’t show animals having sex. “You can’t show even show a pencil drawing of two frogs having sex,” he joked of an attempted bit on his show. “We got a note that said ‘CBS does not show animals fucking’ quote unquote. That’s in an email. … A lot of the notes we’ve gotten from the network are written on the wall.” He maintained, however, that he loves working with constraints.
Another evolution on the show is the use of his iconic pen, he said. Now, Colbert only takes notes when interviewing politicians because they have to “defend their policies and positions.”
Moderator Pete Holmes also asked about Colbert’s anxiety before performing. The host said he takes his blood pressure after the show and occasionally staff won’t let him leave the office because it’s so high due to “pressure.” He called anxiety “fear’s great motivator” and said he “transforms the poison of anxiety” into adrenaline.
Colbert later talked about his Catholic faith, calling himself a “huge fan” of Jesus and adding that “no one has kicked me out yet.” He also mentioned that “going to mass is an attitude of humility.”
After Letterman’s retirement in 2014, Colbert signed a five-year deal with CBS, in which the network owns The Late Show. The comedian recently went viral when actress Ellen Page spoke on his show about homophobia, condemning Vice President Mike Pence and expressing sympathy for Jussie Smollett (the Empire star has since pled not guilty to charges he lied about being the victim of a hate crime). In the past week, Colbert tackled the college admissions scandal and fired back at Trump’s attack on late-night hosts.