Stephen Colbert bids a triumphant, less-than-fond farewell to A Late Show

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Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert

Thursday’s Late Show was the last A Late Show, as The Late Show returns on Monday. Now, that sentence, appearance notwithstanding, makes perfect sense to those who’ve been tuning into Stephen Colbert’s CBS late-night talk show at any point in the last 15 months. As those viewers know, Colbert rechristened his top-rated show once he left the echoey, pandemic-emptied expanse of the Ed Sullivan Theater proper for what he’s come to semi-affectionately dub “The Storage Closet,” swapping out a definite article for the indefinite to at least acknowledge that things have been, well, let’s call them “different” for him and his crew.

As late-night gingerly returns to in-person broadcast (with an appreciatively whooping studio audience and everything), it’ll be interesting to compare how the more intimate talk show experience (complete with beamed-in remote interviews) will switch back to the traditional host-audience dynamic. Colbert, for one, joked in his final isolated opening monologue on Thursday, “Gosh I hope I remember how to feel validated by a cheering crowd.” It’s been oddly compelling to watch Colbert and his late-night peers adjust their deliveries to accommodate the fact that there’s no audible laughter in response to their jokes (apart from, in Colbert’s case, the offscreen chuckles of his wife Evie, who’s been an affectionate audience of one for a while now). 

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But, as Colbert noted in his farewell address to the upstairs “broom closet” from which he’s been broadcasting since March of 2020, “All good things must come to an end. Also this.” Praising his intrepid and adaptive crew for their hard work in shrinking The Late Show down to the closet-sized A Late Show, Colbert said, “They didn’t blink at the extreme challenge we were facing,” and assessed the last, quarantined season-plus as “as good as anything we’ve ever done.” He also praised his family, who’ve, in various capacities, become part of A Late Show’s crew, joking that finally, he can write them off as both dependents and business expenses. As for the audience (which has kept Colbert’s ratings in first place all pandemic), Colbert was especially effusive, explaining, “It was a strange and scary year, but, if I had to be alone, I’m glad it was with you.”

Segueing from heartfelt sincerity to heartfelt goof-around mode, Colbert deadpanned about Americans tendency to “see each other in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions,” before reminding us that “each of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” Cue the Simple Minds, and the Animal House-style “where are they now?” photo montage detailing the post-A Late Show fates of Colbert, Evie, A Late Show’s skeleton crew, and even Colbert’s trusty drinking mug, which is apparently fated for some serious misadventures with the law. Hey, it’s a whole, big world out there.

The Late Show returns with a live audience on Monday.