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Stephen Colbert has already revealed that he won’t be hosting CBS’ Late Show as his conservative character from The Colbert Report. But over the years the comedian has made several talk show appearances (and even reported for ABC News in a previous job as a real journalist), giving viewers insight into what the real Colbert is like.
To get a sense of what’s in store for Late Show in 2015, check out some of Colbert’s best moments as himself.
Meet the Press
In October, Colbert sat down for an extensive interview with Meet the Press‘ David Gregory, offering perhaps the clearest illustration of how his real personality differs from that of his character. He talks about the difference between the two and even answers the same question about who’s leading the 2012 election as his character and himself. “Romney, obviously,” Colbert said as his mock-conservative character. “Did you see him the other night? That guy is on fire! He is on a rocket ride to plausible at this point.” Gregory then asked, “What does the real Stephen think?”
“The real Stephen is actually pleased as a performer that Mitt Romney got his shit together because I model conservative punditry, and if he’s not someone I can follow, I’m lost,” Colbert said as himself. “And I have to say, up until Wednesday night I just thought, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do for the next month.’ … He was just a walking, shambling mound of weakness.”
Colbert also revealed what he tells his guests before the show about his character: “I do the show in character; he’s an idiot. He’s willfully ignorant of what you know and care about. Please honestly disabuse me of my ignorance and we’ll have a great time.” Later he managed to sound a lot like his character when Gregory asked him why he decided to write another book. He makes an incredulous face and says, “Hey, Homer, Iliad was good. Why write The Odyssey? Hey, God, why two testaments? One was fine.”
When asked whether people ask him to be “the real Stephen” or “the fake Stephen,” he said they don’t and are just friendly. “People are almost never mistaken about who I am at any given moment,” he said. “Honest to God, I’m really grateful that people don’t come up to me and say, ‘Do the guy!’ It’d be like walking down the street and someone goes, ‘Play “Free Bird!” ‘ “
Colbert made an appearance on his late-night rival’s show last month to talk about his role in the animated movie Mr. Peabody and Sherman. During his interview, Colbert talked about going to the French state dinner at the White House in a much more serious way than he explored the topic on The Colbert Report, where he proclaimed himself the new first lady of France. He even showed off his high school French, which he used to speak to President Francois Hollande. Unfortunately, Hollande then said something that was beyond Colbert’s level of comprehension, so Colbert responded with “Merci.”
“I completely bullshitted the president of France,” Colbert admitted. “Pardon my French.”
Back in 1997, Colbert was a real journalist for ABC News, going by “Steve Colbert.” In this clip from Good Morning America, he reports on a Rube Goldberg machine contest at Purdue University in Indiana. Although he’s not in character, he still gets off a few jokes, including checking his watch while one of the competitors explains the complicated process by which his machine, designed to load a CD, works. When the machine doesn’t seem to work, Colbert jokes, “and laughter turns to tears.” He closes by saying, “Once again, science triumphs. And are we better for it? Perhaps we should first ask those migrant workers who load CDs, whose jobs are now in danger.”
Larry King Live
Before Larry King signed off from CNN in 2010, he had a sit-down on his cable talk show Larry King Live with the real Colbert. During the in-depth interview, Colbert recalled advice King had given about how to best interview people — “A good interviewer lets the other person talk and doesn’t talk about himself.” King observed that it must be “bewildering” for Colbert when he’s on chat shows or doing gigs as he’s forced to differentiate between the “play” Stephen Colbert and the “real” Stephen Colbert. “It is,” Colbert admitted. “Luckily I get to case his cash because he makes more money than I do.” Calling himself a comedian first, the Second City alum explained that the “Stephen Colbert” character was born of necessity. “He desperately needed a job,” Colbert said, detailing his sole on-air ABC News piece for Good Morning America (watch above) as someone who “looked straight but could act funny.” Thus, the seeds of “Stephen Colbert” were planted.
Late Show With David Letterman
Colbert’s most recent appearance on Late Show came in December. Dressed in a Dickensian getup, much of the conversation between Colbert and Letterman revolved around Colbert’s kidlike adoration for The Hobbit, a movie in which he made a cameo after being invited to New Zealand by director Peter Jackson for a visit. Colbert greeted Letterman with a “Hello, Guvnah!” before declaring (in jest, of course), “I’m kind of the breakout star in The Hobbit, Dave.” When Letterman didn’t believe that he had scored a cameo, Colbert responded by name-dropping an “authority” on movie listings: “Check IMDB. I’m in there. It says Stephen Colbert is in the movie. And if it’s on the Internet, Dave, it’s true.” Colbert then gave reason to believe that he may have been better suited to play an elf “because I already have one pointed ear,” before showing off that unique trait to the studio audience and those at home. “Am I hideous to you now, Dave?”
During the eight-minute chat, Colbert shared a “true” story of young New Zealand men jumping out of helicopters “on to running deer and wrestl[ing] them to the ground” as their high school jobs and recounted a tale of his 9-year-old going bungee jumping — “which of course is illegal for a 9-year-old to do.” Later, Letterman couldn’t help but make a jab at Colbert’s ridiculous outfit. “It took a lot of courage to come out here like this,” he said, prompting Colbert to break out into a brief song.
Email: Hilary.Lewis@THR.com; Philiana.Ng@THR.com
Twitter: @HilaryLewis; @insidethetube
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Robert De Niro