Stephen Colbert’s late-night talk show has been on the air less than two weeks — and already he’s distinguished himself with a classy guest lineup of statesmen, presidential candidates and other serious adults.
Yes, the usual celebs hawking their latest products have been thrown into the mix, but the real excitement in watching “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on CBS comes from Colbert doing what his competition doesn’t do — talk like a grown-up to other grown-ups about world issues.
By contrast, Jimmy Fallon’s day-camp shenanigans on “The Tonight Show” look positively moronic.
People are still talking about Colbert’s incredibly candid interview with Vice President Joe Biden, which ran on Sept. 10 — and they’re calling it a game-changer in the 2016 election, even though Biden hasn’t declared his candidacy. Colbert and Biden had an in-depth, 20-minute conversation about finding the faith and courage to continue living in the wake of tremendous loss, a reference to the recent passing of Biden’s son Beau — and the 1972 deaths of his first wife, Neilia, and year-old daughter, Naomi, in a car accident. Colbert’s respectful yet warm personality made it so easy for Biden to open up and speak from the heart. There wasn’t anyone in the audience at the Ed Sullivan Theater, or at home, who couldn’t relate to him. Perhaps inadvertently, he gave viewers the essence of what’s missing from the current crop of presidential hopefuls: that essential sense of humanity that makes people believe in a candidate.
Pundits who analyze politicians call this a “formation story” because it allows potential voters an empathetic connection to Biden and a belief that he understands and then can address their problems.
That Colbert was able to pull this off in one interview — in front of a younger-skewing audience that you wouldn’t find on “Meet the Press” or another Sunday morning news program — puts him in the rare position of being able to influence the election.
Colbert interviewed GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Colbert’s “Late Show” premiere — reactions seemed mixed — and, on Friday night, Democratic upstart Sen. Bernie Sanders is sitting down with Colbert, no doubt to talk about his status as Hillary Clinton’s chief rival. Next week, Sen. Ted Cruz and former “Celebrity Apprentice” host Donald Trump — now running for president — take the chair across the desk from Colbert. If he can lift the mask off Cruz and cut through Trump’s blather, Americans may get an intimate look at these two candidates, which will increase or decrease their chances of winning the nomination.
Colbert has a unique opportunity between now and November of next year to get politicians and other eminent leaders to come clean and prove their worth. In the wake of Jon Stewart, he has made late-night TV the go-to place for smart viewers.
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