“Hello, nation …you are witnessing TV history, and like all history, it’s not on the History Channel.”
With those words — along with some pretty impressive harmonization of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with folks around the country — Stephen Colbert began his first night as host of The Late Show. Looking dapper in a light blue suit, Colbert was greeted with huge applause and the sight of CBS CEO Leslie Moonves sitting in the front row with a (brilliant) lever that triggers a rerun of The Mentalist if his new star doesn’t deliver the goods.
“We have been working so very hard to get the show ready for you,” Colbert said. “As long as I have nine months to make one hour of TV, I can do this forever.”
Colbert kept the opening jokes to a minimum so he could pay tribute to former Late Show host David Letterman (“The comedy landscape is so thickly painted with the forest of Dave’s ideas”). He also performed a gag about his on-set DVR that gave him a chance to “break” into The Tonight Show and run a taped congratulatory message from competitor Jimmy Fallon. (The NBC host returned the favor by wishing Colbert “all the luck in the world” over on The Tonight Show.)
After a series of Donald Trump jokes and a loony routine involving the night’s sponsor Sabra hummus (seriously, it was credited with promotional consideration at the end), Colbert welcomed first guest George Clooney – one of Letterman’s last before he signed off in May. Clooney admitted he didn’t actually have a movie to promote so he spoofed one instead. (The title? Decision Strike. He played a tuxedo-wearing secretary general of the U.N. in a series of clips.) Colbert then rewarded Clooney by asking (predictable) questions about being married to a smart woman like Amal before gifting him a Tiffany paperweight that was inscribed with the message, “I don’t know you.”
The tone definitely changed with the arrival of presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who didn’t waste any time going after the Obama Administration by saying it was a “complete basket case” and that the nation wasn’t “operating on all cylinders.” But Colbert tried to keep it light by having fun with the candidate’s Jeb! campaign posters and a query about Mama Bush.
Colbert’s family also played a role on his first night. His wife and kids were in the audience, and his new set features a pennant that his mother received during Martin Luther King’s historic 1963 march on Washington, D.C., which culminated in King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. (There was also a Captain America shield on display.) After a performance by Jon Batiste and Stay Human, Mavis Staples, and a handful of other famous singers, Colbert ended the show with a cute bit of him and Fallon saying goodbye in the late-night locker room — a callback to their earlier gag. Too bad the guy from ABC didn’t join in the fun.
Here were Colbert’s best jokes from his first night:
- “I’ve been on the search for the real Stephen Colbert, I just hope I don’t find him on Ashley Madison.”
- “There are really lovely people at CBS. They have been so welcoming, I feel like a third Broke Girl.”
- “Later we’ll talk to Jeb Bush. Very excited about that. Should be a good, rare TV appearance where he doesn’t have to share the stage with 16 other people. Bush has been governor of Florida for 18 years … that much exposure to oranges and crazy people should have prepared him for Donald Trump.”
- “That is all digital projection, I wanted to have Michelangelo paint it but it turns out that ninja turtles aren’t real.”
- “There are a lot of pictures of me. I used to play a narcissistic pundit and now I am just a narcissist.”
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