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Even though it was the last-ever edition of The Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert seemed determined to treat Thursday night's farewell like any ordinary episode… for the first act anyway. As he told Jon Stewart in the resurrected toss segment that, at one point in time, accompanied every transition between The Daily Show and the Report: "I like to think every show is special. It's a little thing called professionalism."
Colbert proceeded to prove that professionalism by not giving into the visible mix of emotions running across his face while addressing his audience for the very last time. "I know this is an emotional night for a lot of you," he said off the top, trying to pretend that it wasn't emotional for him at all. That prelude led into a standard bit of news commentary, with the host making note of an odd ripped-from-the-headlines story about a Texas plumber's truck that somehow ended up being used in a firefight in Syria. From there, he awkwardly segued into a piece of legitimately good news: His charity auction benefitting the Yellow Ribbon Fund and Donor’s Choose raised over $300,000. Take good care of that giant C-shaped desk, you lucky winner you.
With that bit of business out of the way, Colbert at last dropped the pretense that this was any ordinary night, acknowledging that this was his last show, at least "Until 10 years from now when they reboot it directed by J.J. Abrams." And what better way to start the process of saying goodbye that harkening back to the segment that kicked off his first episode — and defined him as a faux-bloviator — way back in October 2005: "The Word." That initial "Word" installment introduced the word "truthiness" into the lexicon and this time around, Colbert boldly proclaimed this his lasting influence would be that through his nine years on the air, "I samed the world." As he noted, 2014 is looking an awful lot like 2005, what with a former Bush governor making a run for the White House, people defending torture on television, and troops being sent back into Iraq. It's all a sign that he's delivered on his revolution, because "Technically, one revolution is 360-degrees back to where we were."
So far, so ordinary. But the plot thickened in the second act when Colbert introduced a regular segment — the Prescott Group-sponsored Cheating Death with Stephen T. Colbert D.F.A. — and instead of simply playing chess with the Grim Reaper, Colbert ended up killing Death itself and tossing the murder weapon to a favorite long-running character, an Audience Member (played by executive producer Tom Purcell) who, as usual, shot himself in the knee. Before the commercial break, Colbert proclaimed that he was now immortal, which made us wonder if his next career move would be rebooting the Highlander film franchise.
After spending two-minutes worth of commercials adjusting to eternal life, Colbert pronounced it "OK" when the show resumed. Rather than squander the endless amount of time available to him with bucket lists (which mostly referenced things he'd like to eat out of buckets), he decided he'd much rather sing and launched into a rousing rendition of "We'll Meet Again," which — fun fact — is the same song that plays over the apocalyptic finale of the classic Stanley Kubrick satire, Dr. Strangelove. Initially joined by Stewart and guest pianist Randy Newman, the Report stage was soon flooded with celebrities, who could barely be heard amidst the cheers and clapping of the audience.
Bryan Cranston, Willie Nelson, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Patrick Stewart, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Sam Waterston, Alan Alda, Ken Burns, Andy Cohen, George Lucas, Henry Kissinger, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Yahoo's own Katie Couric all took part in the live celebrity sing-a-long and plenty more — including Bill Clinton, Vince Gillian, and future Report reboot director J.J. Abrams — appeared in video clips. (While it's possible that James Franco emerged from hiding to join the throng, the more likely explanation is that the embattled co-star of The Interview filmed his brief cameo before Thursday night, as he didn't appear to be a part of the big group shot at the end. Also, there's still that security threat against his movie out there.)
Freed from the demands of a nightly fake news show and armed with immortality and Captain America's shield, Colbert turned his attention to life's big question: "What do I do now?" The answer arrived in the form of Santa's sleigh, carrying Mr. Claus, along with Abraham Lincoln and Alex Trebek aka "The One with All the Answers." It was the Jeopardy! host who made Colbert feel more at ease about his next step, because he understood that "All of life's important answers must be in the form of a question."
And, with that, Colbert rocketed away from his former home on New York's West Side and rocketed up into the heavens, where he'll soar like… well, like a sleigh-bound eagle forever. It's hard to think of a more fitting future for a man who has considered himself America's eagle-eyed protector these past nine years. In the decades to come, may he look down upon us and indulge our foibles, forgive us our trespasses and, most importantly, make it rain Americone Dream.