Much has been made of Stephen Colbert’s still infant run on The Late Show. In the past couple months, the show has lost longtime producer Meredith Bennet, added showrunner Chris Licht from news program CBS This Morning, faced critical questions about the popularity of The Late Late Show’s James Corden, and undergone a handful of changes to its structure. Uproxx’s Mike Ryan wrote a lengthy breakdown, forecasting a somewhat grim outlook for the program. But I think, while weathering the storm, bits of sunlight have broken through the clouds.
This video, embedded below and published to The Late Show’s Facebook page, is an example of how Colbert differentiates himself from the late night competition. Before each episode, the host answers questions from the audience. Asked about his wife, Colbert responded with a six-minute monologue about how he knew, in the moment he first saw her, that she was the one.
When Colbert first announced plans to retire his windbag conservative character from The Colbert Report, one that he seemed to embody like a never-ending work of performance art, both fans and the press speculated on what the ‘real’ Stephen Colbert would be like. Would he still be funny? Would he be political? Or subdued? Were we losing something special with the exit of the fake Colbert?
Of course we’d caught glimpses of the ‘real’ Colbert here and there at commencement speeches or in interviews when the character cracked ever so slightly. By now we’ve had a chance to see Colbert, truly, for who he is: a passionate orator in the tradition of Mark Twain — a comparison ironically given to Colbert’s satirical persona, though for different reasons.
He’s unashamed of his faith, his political beliefs, and his sincere love of family. He’s both socially conscious and unabashedly fond of the good old days, of his home state, of his old-fashioned upbringing. He’s without question the most outspoken liberal Catholic in the media. As the country is divided, he’s as close as any personality to a philosophical bridge.
This meet cute, told before the show, is one Colbert has seemingly honed at family get togethers and evenings with friends, and here he is sharing it with the world, free of any snark or sarcasm deployed to maintain a distance between the storyteller and the audience. By which I mean that, though it’s performative, it’s fiercely human and notably more vulnerable than the hosts of the other network late night talk shows.
There's only one problem: this story never aired. If there's a change to be made at The Late Show, it's not to waste the 'real' Colbert on web videos.