We're less than a week away from the launch of Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and all the Jeb Bush video feuds can't dampen our spirits now. Colbert has been working out the kinks with test shows all week, and yesterday, we were among the lucky superfans who waited on line for hours on a particularly humid day to get a taste of what's in store. Although, maybe disciples would be a more appropriate word choice than superfans. "I love Colbert," said Andy, an audience member who gave a fake name because he was skipping work. "I'm hoping he subverts what's been done already. The web content's been incredible. He's like a god to me." Kneel before Colbert.
So here are the big takeaways from the show—keep in mind there probably will be some SPOILERS, since Colbert integrated some taped segments as well as live riffs into the show.
- As people were walking in, the pages emphatically said, "there's no bad seat in the house," and yes, they were correct. The room is more than twice as big as the old Colbert studio, and the layout makes it much easier to see from the nosebleeds. This isn't like sitting in the back row of The Tonight Show and having to squint to make out the first guest of the night.
- The backdrop of the stage has the requisite NY skyline and stars studding a twilight sky, but everything else felt different from Letterman's layout. The color scheme of the set is red, white and blue (very Colbertian). There's stained glass on the studio walls and roof, imprinted with Colbert's smiling face. A chandelier hung from the ceiling (it had been hidden away there for years by decade-old air ducts). There were also full catwalks on either side of the stage with easily accessible staircases.
- Colbert told the audience he brought three items to the new studio from his old show: his Captain America shield, the medal his mother got at the civil rights rally she attended while she was pregnant with him, and a picture of his dad.
- Asked about all of his faces around the theater, Colbert noted dryly: "I used to be a narcissistic conservative commentator. Now I'm just a narcissist."
- The structure of the show was similar to The Colbert Report, except with an opening monologue. Colbert came out from behind a garage door and riffed on 24-hour McDonald's cheeseburgers for awhile before sitting at the desk and continuing with a long bit comparing Donald Trump to Oreos.
- The pre-taped segment, on lifestyle brands such as Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP, felt very much like classic Colbert. This included a faux-commercial for his own lifestyle brand, Covington House, with Colbert perched upon a sofa in the middle of an enchanted glen, offering $175 coasters and a wardrobe "like the Great Gatsby vomited on you."
- The big attitude change Colbert has been talking up in interviews in recent weeks—the fact that he can shed the skin of his conservative idiot character and just be himself—makes itself most readily evident during the interviews. Colbert doesn't have to pretend with his guests anymore, which led to immediately sweet moments like a duet with Laura Benanti on "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from My Fair Lady and a sincere conversation about Western Muslim identity with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhta.
- During the commercial breaks, Jean Batiste & Stay Human kept performing for the audience, with Batiste raced around the entire theatre, even standing on a piano at one point.
The sign on the door noted that they were doing a "special project" taking photos of everyone in line on a green screen (Eric Silver/Gothamist)
We weren't the only ones to attend a show this week of course: people who attended the test shows earlier in the week spoke with CNN, and they got some very different segments, including one in which Colbert submitted to a lie detector test in an effort to answer the question: "Who is the real Stephen Colbert?"
Overall, Colbert's new show carries the same comedy DNA as his last one, but seems like a slightly more sincere evolution from The Colbert Report. Suffice to say, we don't think he has to worry about becoming the next Dick Cavett.
[Reporting by Eric Silver]