Few headliners at this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour have been as anticipated as Stephen Colbert. The incoming host of The Late Show on CBS, who officially fills David Letterman‘s seat in just under a month, has yet to talk about what his new late-night vehicle will look like.
So what does the former Colbert Report host want to change with his new hourlong showcase? For one, he is not sold on delivering monologues from a desk. “Well, that sounds boring,” he said at the suggestion. “I’m gonna go with ‘no’ on boring.”
What few logistics he would get into about the new show made it sound a lot like his old gig on Comedy Central. “CBS has asked nothing of me other than I fill an hour,” said Colbert. “They liked the show I used to do and asked, ‘Would you mind adding another 120 hours a year?’ ”
The Sep. 8 launch is quickly approaching, and Colbert explained that he moved into his new digs during the first week of August — setting up shop at the offices above New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater while construction continues on the set, which he said will better acknowledge that the show takes place on a Broadway stage. The new setup will include a shift for the desk. Per a conversation with Letterman, Colbert says he decided to move it to the other side of where it’s historically located on Late Night and most of its contemporaries.
Another big change, which has been a source of much public confusion, is what a Colbert-hosted show will look like now that he’s dropping the persona he played for so many years on the satirical Report. Colbert might be most anxious of all. The 51-year-old, who noted it was “an act of discipline to keep that cap on,” mentioned that the character was starting to get in the way of his interviews.
“My favorite thing on the show became doing the interviews,” he said. “I had done everything I could with him other than have honest interest in my guests. Now I feel more freed up. That was the most energetic part of the show for me, and now I can just talk…. I don’t think anybody would have watched that old show if they didn’t know who I was. Because that guy was a tool. It feels a little like therapy. ‘Who’s the real Stephen Colbert?’ ”
Colbert does not suffer from any lack of energy. He introduced himself like a hype man for a middleweight boxer before peppering his Q&A with jokes and going so far as to call out one reporter for interrupting another and tweet about the “rude man.” “This is the longest I have gone since I was 24 without performing in front of a live audience,” Colbert copped. “I’m twitching.”
Whether or not they’ve asked him, CBS brass are likely pleased with Colbert’s plan to push for extra digital elements to his show. Colbert used Donald Trump‘s current media circus as one example, noting that if Trump had announced his candidacy at 1 p.m. on a weekday, his team would have something written by 3 p.m. and then filmed and ready for CBS to put online by 5 p.m. “I want to make jokes about Donald Trump so bad,” he admitted. “Right now I’m just dry-Trumping.”
Echoing CBS chief Nina Tassler‘s comments about his political aptitude earlier in the day, Colbert said that guests will include politicians — on top of actors and musicians — but those invited to the show won’t be limited to famous people. “Anybody that’s interesting and has something to say,” he said. (His first guest will be George Clooney, followed soon by his first musical guest, Kendrick Lamar.)
Colbert’s arrival at CBS seemingly signals the end of a years-long game of musical chairs that has seen Jimmy Fallon moving to NBC’s Tonight, James Corden and Seth Meyers both moving into the late-late hour and Jimmy Kimmel shifting to the more competitive 11:35 p.m. slot. When asked if the cutthroat competition of yesteryear, epitomized by the late-night rivalry between Letterman and Jay Leno, might return, Colbert brushed it off.
“Maybe I missed the competitive gene,” he said. “Competition is not that fun for me…. We’re just having fun. I hope everyone else does the same and has fantastic ratings.”
And since he dropped hints throughout his half-hour showing that he has been itching to comment on Trump, he left the TCA crowd with his thoughts on the current Republican front-runner.
“I just want to say that every little boy grows up believing they could be president of the United States, and I’m just so happy that little boy is Donald Trump,” he said. “Please stay healthy until I’m on the air. Don’t do anything dangerous. Every night, I light a candle and pray that he stays in the race — and that nobody puts that candle near his hair.”