How Stephen Colbert Plans to Make ‘The Late Show’ His Own

The new face of CBS late night is set to debut and reveal a new side to his persona.
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Tracy Phillips
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The new face of CBS late night is set to debut and reveal a new side to his persona.
Late Show With Stephen Colbert Photo

'Late Show With Stephen Colbert.' (Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc.)

Will the real Stephen Colbert please stand up?

He’s been waiting in the wings for months and tonight, Stephen Colbert will finally walk out on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater and make The Late Show his own in the most highly anticipated takeover in late-night’s recent transformation.

Colbert, 51, spent nine years portraying his popular conservative pundit character on Comedy Central, delivering his satirical news bits with both an arched-eyebrow and a wink.

With his move from cable to CBS, he’ll have to adapt his style to reach a much broader audience, so Colbert will drop his Captain Oblivious M.O. and just be himself.

He’s more than ready to get out of character and unveil the “real Stephen Colbert” when he officially takes the reins as host of CBS’s The Late Show on Tuesday, September 8th.

“I can’t wait for him to be the only guy you see,” Colbert told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles in August. “Now I actually feel more freed up…now I don’t have to hold back at all,” he said.

Late Show With Stephen Colbert Photo

(Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc.)

The real Stephen Colbert is a little closer to that “Stephen Colbert” than you may think, though.

“I’ve been wearing that mask lighter and lighter as the years went on,” Colbert told a small group of reporters following a CBS press conference, which he handled masterfully. He says he felt he’d done everything he could with the character and took it as far as it could go.

As for how the new Late Show will look, that’s under wraps, with intentional room for tinkering.

“I don’t feel like I have to come out of the gate knowing everything,” Colbert told reporters. “I’d like to have enough humility to find it as I go.”

But here’s what we do know about the show and how Colbert will make his mark on CBS’s marquee late-night program:

1. Politics will play a part in the show.

Yes, Colbert will indeed be bringing his political savvy to The Late Show — how could he not? “I want to have politicians of all stripes on the show,” he told reporters.

Debuting during a presidential campaign is a bonus for Colbert and is great material for all the late-night hosts. Colbert’s very excited about one candidate in particular. “I’m not going to name any names, but let’s just say, I want to do jokes on Donald Trump so badly,” Colbert admitted during his TCA press conference.

Late Show With Stephen Colbert Photo

'Late Show With Stephen Colbert' (Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc.)

Afterward, when asked by a reporter if he thought Trump had a real chance of becoming president, he said, “Honestly? He could! That’s not my opinion of Donald Trump. That’s my opinion of our nation,” Colbert laughed. 

Is he horrified by that notion? “You know what? There have been some great presidents, there have been some bad presidents," he said. "But having a giant, swinging set of balls isn’t the worst thing in the world, you know?”

2. There will be a focus on interviews.

Of course, there will be jokes, skits and viral videos, but Colbert has discovered he has a real love for doing interviews.

“I’m a comedian, but I have to say that my favorite thing on the [old] show became doing the interviews because I got into comedy through improvisation,” Colbert revealed.

“When you’re interviewing people, you don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s much closer to how I learned my craft,” he continued. “And you can have big stars or important politicians or impressive thinkers, but it’s sometimes the people you don’t expect to impress you who can be your best guests.”

3. Colbert’s Late Show may end up looking a little bit like The Colbert Report.

“They haven’t asked me to change or do anything,” Colbert said of working with CBS. “They like the show I used to do. CBS has asked nothing of me other than I fill an hour every night Monday through Friday. So the format hasn’t changed.”

Late Show With Stephen Colbert Logo Photo

(Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc.)

4. David Letterman is cool with Colbert taking over his show.

When asked if Letterman gave Colbert any advice before he walked out off the set for the last time in May, or if he gave him any mementos, Colbert revealed that Letterman did something better than that.

“Dave used to get down to the theater in an old brass-handled freight elevator, which he asked them not to remove from the theater [when it was gutted], and after we talked, I asked him if he would show me how to run the elevator. And he said, ‘Oh, it’s the best thing in the building.’ He showed me how to run it, and then he said, ‘There, now it’s waiting for you.’ It was really lovely. He couldn’t have been more gracious. He left me with the keys you might say.”

5. There will be a diversity of guests.

The guest roster will go beyond your usual celebrities pitching their latest offerings. As Colbert’s a comedian more on the intellectual side of the entertainment spectrum, expect a broad range of personalities to appear on the show from film, TV, books, politics and business.

“Anybody who is interesting and has something to say, that’s what I’m interested in,” Colbert explained.

To get an idea of the variety, here’s a look at the announced guests who will be appearing on the first two weeks of the new Late Show.

September 8 : George Clooney, Jeb Bush and musical performance by Jon Batiste and Stay Human with "special guests"

September 9: Scarlett Johansson, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and interview/performance with Kendrick Lamar

September 10: Vice President Joe Biden, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and musical performance by Toby Keith

September 11: Amy Schumer, Stephen King and interview/performance by Troubled Waters

September 14: Emily Blunt, Justice Stephen Breyer and musical performance by The Dead Weather

September 15: Jake Gyllenhaal and musical performance by Run the Jewels with TV on the Radio

September 16: Kevin Spacey, Carol Burnett with Broad City's Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, and interview/performance with Willie Nelson

September 17: Naomi Watts and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

September 18: Lupita Nyong'o, Senator Bernie Sanders and interview/performance by An American in Paris

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert premieres Tuesday, September 8th on CBS.