Stephen Colbert was ready to soothe a weary electorate with the medicine of laughter on Election Night, but even the comedian couldn't have predicted what he would be walking into with his live Showtime special.
The Late Show host, whose nightly CBS show was preempted Tuesday for ongoing coverage of the election results, brought his act to CBS' premium cable sister channel Showtime for a special titled Stephen Colbert's Live Election Night Democracy's Series Finale: Who's Going to Clean Up This Sh*t? Though it was announced as a one-hour event, the show ran 20 minutes over, concluding with a needed patriotic address from Colbert.
As results for the presidential election began rolling in Tuesday night, defying pollsters with Donald Trump's electoral vote lead - and sending Hollywood into a panic - Colbert's warm-up comic Paul Mercurio appeared at 10:30 p.m. ET to pump up a crowd who had been glued to their phones, before turning them off when the show started and gossiping about the election results. The in-studio monitors even aired a few minutes of CBS' election coverage before Mercurio took the stage, with the audience audibly reacting to the election returns the anchors were predicting. Mercurio had to ask the crowd a few times to cheer and laugh louder and called out nervous audience members, even asking, "What are you, f - ing dead inside?" After Mercurio ended his set, bringing a few audience members onstage to ask them some personal questions and gently joke with them about their answers, the crowd jumped to their feet and danced for a 10-minute performance from Jon Batiste and the Late Show band, Stay Human. In between, the stage manager gave those in the audience a sense of what to expect, from the show at least, promising a longer cold open than normal followed by opening credits and then Colbert's monologue.
But, as he often does, Colbert took the stage a few minutes before the show began to chat with the audience: "It's going to be a lot of fun, a little nerve-wracking, but a lot of fun." The dome presented the current electoral college standings, causing the crowd to groan over the results depicted, which showed Trump ahead. "Calm down, it's still early," said Colbert. "There's no need for crying. We're going to be together for a long time. I'm going to lock the door and we're going to stay in here." The soothing, comforting approach is one that Colbert kept coming back to, finding himself needing to assuage a shocked audience.
When asked how nervous he is, the host replied, "I've done this a bunch. I did this in 2000 with Bush-Gore, so I'll tell you in 32 days."
The show's cold open then began to roll, a dark animated comedy of a vengeful Trump wanting revenge after President Barack Obama's takedown of the GOP nominee during the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner - and he does so by winning the election. "No more Mexicans, no more Muslims, no more losers," Trump screams five years in the future. The video saw Trump learning, from his father, that it was better to be a "winner" than a "bigly loser."
The mini-movie, titled "Trump Begins," not only echoed theories that part of his presidential run was a quest for revenge, it also seemed to echo that dinner's emcee Seth Meyers, whose NBC program Late Night was pre-empted for election coverage, but previously said of his WHCD set, in which he poked fun at Trump's birther claims about Obama to an unamused Trump, that his performance "gave Bane his origin story."
When Colbert took the stage for his monologue to the audience chanting his name, he said, "You don't need to stand for me. You don't need to chant for me. America doesn't have dictators - yet," the host said while introducing himself as Stephen "F - ing" Colbert. "What a year tonight has been! Right now the election is too close to call and too terrifying to contemplate," he said. He then asked the crowd if they were on edge about the "passport-grabber" of a night, to which they replied with a resounding "YES!"
During his monologue, Colbert recounted the biggest moments of the day amid the buzzing uncertainty. Of Trump being caught spying on wife Melania's ballot, he joked: "It's the first time Trump has been caught cheating off one of his wives instead of on one of his wives." He then aired a clip reel of uncensored curses from Late Show, including the full penis chalkboard drawing, unblurred. (Colbert's monologue streamed live via the channel's Facebook page, below.)
As suggested by the title, Colbert, who often pokes fun at CBS' censorship, had indicated ahead of the special that he'd take advantage of the ability to swear on Showtime, with showrunner Chris Licht telling The Hollywood Reporter that Colbert and his team prepped three different versions of the show that they can switch out based on what's happening, since results were nowhere near final when the show began at 11 p.m. ET.
Colbert told the audience he is indeed bringing nudity back: "Boobs, butts and diddly bits which can only be shown for artistic integrity." But the mood was somber. And while he did bring out a buff man, naked except for an index card covering his penis, with Colbert bending down to read the results (Marco Rubio has won his Senate seat in Florida), that was the last time nudity was used "to advance the plot" of what became a depressing hour-plus affair.
Jeff Goldblum was the first of the many promised guests to appear, explaining away Trump's potential win with a "chaos theory."
"The GOP took a hardened chunk of amber with prehistoric ideas and created a monster," said the Jurassic Park star. "They thought they could keep him contained but didn't count for hundreds of millions of things that could go wrong. The GOP were so preoccupied with if they could create a candidate didn't think if they should - now he's destroying everything in his path, including the Republican party."
Colbert continued to joke away the results, which he updated his cellphone-less audience with. "Right now, the only thing tighter than the race in Florida is my sphincter," he said. The audience uttered an audible and collective sigh when Colbert announced Trump took Ohio.
Of Trump losing his home state of New York, Colbert quipped that the GOP nominee is fine with Clinton winning the 29 electoral votes because "he never wants anything over 25." It appeared the host had prepped jokes for each state, rattling them off as he announced that Trump had won Nebraska and North Carolina and Clinton had won Vermont - a prize that also earned her her own Ben & Jerry's flavor, he joked, suggesting it could be "Deleted Cream Mail."
Without any commercial breaks, Colbert aired pre-taped ads throughout the show, with the first a Nick Offerman ad for Schmitt's Yard Signs. After the first "break," he brought out The Circus' Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, serving them double Old Fashioneds as they informed the audience of the shocking news that Trump was, at the moment, the narrow frontrunner. The audience gasped when told Trump was ahead in both Wisconsin and Michigan - "If he wins both, he's president," the pair said of "the compounding of all of the craziness [from the current election]."
Calling Trump's electoral vote potential a "horrifying prospect," the trio agreed that the aftermath of a Trump win is going to be a "challenging" time for America.
"Outside of the Civil War, World War II and including 9/11, this may be the most cataclysmic event our country has seen," said Halperin, adding that Clinton will be under pressure to challenge the results.
Laura Benanti then revisited her impression of Melania Trump, via faux satellite: "I've always said, 'I will survive, we didn't start the fire, yo quiero Taco Bell.'" She thanked Vladmir Putin for his vision "driving the whole campaign," as well as "Jeb and his cousin Billy Bush." She also thanked Ivanka Trump, saying of her step-daughter, she's like a "slightly older sister."
Colbert then brought Goldblum back to the couch, saying his movies aren't nearly as scary as the election. Continuing the vibe of the show, Goldblum was too distraught to make light of the moment.
"I can't believe it. I'm in shock," said the Independence Day actor. "Horrible things will happen to me, all of us," he mused, as the actor who'd not only supported Clinton but campaigned for her searched for a silver lining. Colbert understood where he was coming from, adding, "That's the best thought I can think of. Maybe something worse than this will happen to us."
Next up, Elle King performed "America's Sweetheart" and Colbert brought back Heilemann along with Charlamagne tha God and Jena Friedman, the latter two of whom were especially angered and distraught over the current results. Heilemann also shared the news that as of that moment, The New York Times projected that Trump had a 95 percent chance of winning, leaving Clinton's odds of taking the White House at just five percent.
"Well, congratulations America, you f - ed this one up," said the radio presenter. When Colbert explained that this show is about feelings tonight, Friedman replied, "I feel like I'm about to give birth to a baby that's already dead." She then added, "It feels like an asteroid has smashed into our democracy. I wish I could be funny. Get your abortions now."
Colbert replied with a serious answer, saying, "This is a moment for people to understand political involvement is a responsibility. You can opt out of voting, but you can't opt out of lack of action. If this is the effects, people who didn't vote will see effects of lack of action."
In attempt to find some light amid the dire mood, Colbert said, "I believe the American people made a choice that they believe will help their lives and everyone is entitled to make that decision, whether or not you agree with that."
The show ran long, not wrapping until 20 minutes after midnight, with Colbert concluding with a needed address to worried watchers, which he originally wanted to sit for but couldn't even bring himself to sit down.
"I think we can agree this has been an absolutely exhausting election - we all feel how Giuliani looks," he said. "Everybody's going to be saying, 'Has America lost its mind?' and the answer's going to be, 'Back off, buddy - we've got 300 million guns and we are stressed out.'"
He then continued with his message: "Everybody feels that way. More than half of Democrats say the Republican party makes them afraid. Both sides are terrified of the other side. I think that's why the voting booth has a curtain, so you can hide. How did our politics get so poisonous? I think we overdosed. You take a little of the poison so you can hate the other side. And it tastes good and you enjoy it and you know you're right."
Speaking about those who designed our democracy, Colbert said they "designed an election that was meant to confuse us and bore us a bit." He added, "Now politics is everywhere and that takes up precious brain space we could be using to think about all the things we have in common."
Colbert encouraged those listening to keep their American flag up as they put away their "I voted" stickers. He then listed a few light-hearted things to bring everyone together before making the audience stand to their feet to kiss a Democrat and hug a Republican.
"Let's agree we never, ever have another election like the one we just had," he said. "The election is over, you survived. Goodnight and may God bless America."
After his signoff, Colbert stuck around to address the in-studio audience once the cameras stopped rolling: "I meant what I said. I wasn't just trying to be a positive person. It's a beautiful country; we're all going to be all right."
He then thanked the crowd for being there. Colbert also revealed that an edited version of the special will air Friday on CBS.