Stephen Colbert’s Debut on The Late Show

September 9, 2015
I’d been waiting for months for this – with trepidation more than in anticipation.  I absolutely adored The Colbert Report.  It spoke to me, in all its extreme silliness laced with profound political and social commentary. Together with Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, it had been my community, my people. I was part of the “Colbert Nation,” who I relaxed with, laughed with, and ruminated about the mind-boggling abyss that is the contemporary state of politics and media.

To be honest, I stopped watching Letterman years ago, though I had started out a devotee.  Having kids changes your life as well as your TV habits.  I would occasionally tune in or Tivo an episode with a great band, but that was about it.  So I didn’t really know the broadcast late-night landscape.  (A good thing perhaps, because it seems to have made a generational shift in the past few months.)

And so, more as a fan of Stephen than of David, I tuned in last night to the new Late Show with Stephen Colbert, quite worried Colbert was gone.  But I’m happy and relieved to say that I came away deeply heartened.  What I mean is, it was Stephen Colbert in all his everyman glory, the Colbert I knew and ached for, the Colbert who kept us informed and sane amid all the “truthiness” and insanity.

The show began with a seemingly silly series of video clips of him singing with people from around the country.  And of course it was funny.  But it was also the Star Spangled Banner, our National Anthem, which infused the silliness of what was once Colbert Nation with a deeper meaning that encompassed and united our entire big and beautiful nation.  And I immediately knew that Colbert, the exquisitely engaged political citizen, was back.  

That’s really what I feared most:  that citizen Stephen who guided us through the morass of politics and political personalities would never return outside Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. And it was quite the face-palm moment for me.  What was I thinking?  Why had I underestimated Stephen Colbert of all people?  Of course he would be back.  Of course he would continue to make an important contribution to our nation.  Or course he would bring even more people on board Colbert Nation.

If there were any lingering doubts after this opening segment, they were thoroughly obliterated with the closing number.  Jon Batiste’s band Stay Human was joined on stage with “special friends” Buddy Guy and Mavis Staples among others from the music world and beyond to perform a joyous jamming rendition of Sly & the Family Stone’s classic song ‘Everyday People.’  What a brilliant choice.  After a year of horrific news reports highlighting our nation’s continuing painful struggle with racism, when black lives still don’t matter as much as white lives in our societal institutions and attitudes, this song and its big performance had a profoundly uniting message:  We’ve got to live together.  It was Sly’s message in the 1960s, Rodney King’s message in the 1980s, and it continues to be painfully relevant today.  We are one nation, too easily divisible, but we’ve got to learn to live together.  So even if we don’t look it or know it, we are all at our core Americans, going through life with the same simple everyday goals.  We want to laugh, enjoy the company of family and friends, share our talents, and be heard.

So, thank you, Stephen.  I’m sorry I doubted you.  I know you’ll forgive me.

See you tonight.

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