What Stephen Colbert’s Past Teaches Us About His ‘Late Show’ Future

Non-'Report' Personas That Could Inform Stephen Colbert's 'Late Show'

August 17, 2015
Photo: CBS

For the first decade-and-a-half of this century, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert redefined what political humor could mean to an entire nation. Sadly, 2015 saw the end of both Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” and Stephen’s Colbert’s “Report” (which ended Dec. 2014), leaving a cavernous void. Fortunately, Colbert shall return, rising like a phoenix from the late night ashes to host “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” starting September 8th. The Colbert of the “Daily Show/Report” universe is a very particular, very hilarious creation, yet the pundit Colbert will likely be very different than the late night host Colbert. We’ve spent so much time with Stephen “Stephen Colbert” Colbert, that it’s thrilling to think that we’ll finally get to spend some time with the real Stephen Colbert. So who exactly will that guy be? Hints lie in Colbert’s “Late Show” videos and podcasts. However, evidence may exist in his earlier work, which sees Colbert taking on many different comedic personalities and tones than the one America has come to trust with their political “truthiness.”

Let’s take a look at some of the personas Colbert takes on in his early work, which may point forward to his “Late Show.”

Stephen “Sketch Comedy” Colbert

Like so many pillars of modern comedy, Stephen Colbert trained and performed extensively at Chicago’s Second City Theater, where he cut his teeth performing sketch comedy. In 1996, Colbert got his big break as a cast member on “The Dana Carvey Show,” a short-lived ABC sketch series that also included Steve Carrell in the cast and Louis C.K. as head writer. One of Colbert and Carrell’s most iconic sketches is this brilliant display of understated physical comedy, “Waiters Who Are Nauseated By Food.” It’s a simple concept executed flawlessly, and displays a comic mastery that Colbert would display in the coming years. There’s a solid chance that Colbert will revisit his sketch comedy roots for his “Late Show.”

Stephen “Strangers With Candy” Colbert

Photo: Comedy Central

Amy Sedaris’s cult Comedy Central series (and 2006 movie) “Strangers With Candy” is beloved by many for its offbeat tone and sensibilities. One of the main reasons for that is Colbert’s Chuck Noblet, who embodies a certain strangeness that rarely appeared on the Report, but could very likely show up on the “Late Show.” Noblet is also one of the few instances of Colbert playing a single character over an extended period that’s not the Report’s “Stephen Colbert.” While Colbert will likely not (unfortunately) be recreating any “Strangers With Candy” episodes, the oddball, weirder sensibility on display here could absolutely come into play during his “Late Show.”

Check out a hilarious Colbert-centric “Strangers” clip, “Lie Detector” here.

Stephen “Genius Voice Artist” Colbert

Photo: NBC

Stephen Colbert has an amazing voice – that’s a fact that sometimes falls through the cracks. However, nowhere is that more evident than in Colbert’s limited but genius body of voice acting: “Harvey Birdman,” “Venture Brothers,” and even “Bojack Horseman.”The “Colbert Report” occasionally featured animation as well, but Colbert’s most prominent vocal work is probably his role as Ace, one-half of the “Ambiguously Gay Duo” on SNL. The other half? Steve Carrell. Crazy coincidence, right? Well, the connection makes more sense when you realize that the “Ambiguously Gay Duo” began as a sketch on “The Dana Carvey Show” (where SNL “TV Funhouse” mastermind Robert Smigel also worked). Keep an eye out for Colbert’s animated tendencies to perhaps make an appearance on his “Late Show.”

Stephen “Investigative Journalist” Colbert

Early on, Colbert made some fairly straight forward appearances on “Good Morning America,” revealing he has as much of a knack for real journalism as he does for fake journalism. Here he is reporting on a Rube Goldberg machine competition at Purdue University in 1997. Perhaps Colbert’s “Late Show” may feature true informational elements, much like like David Letterman’s “Kid Scientists.”

Stephen “Whatever Happens, Happens” Colbert

Photo: Comedy Central

Through his twenty-year career on television, Stephen Colbert has never shied away from the unexpected. Given his comedy training (not to mention how many remote “Daily Show” interviews he has conducted with some slightly-less-than-sane characters), it’s no surprise that Colbert rolls with the punches of spontaneity, even embraces them. Take a look at this classic “Daily Show” clip involving Colbert, Prince Charles, and a banana, and try not to smile. Undoubtedly, “The Late Show” will only benefit from Colbert’s mastery of the unexpected.

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