Trump’s never-ending antics have begun exhausting pundits, including Stephen Colbert.
With so much of the world’s established media predicting the election of Hillary Clinton, it was particularly jarring when Donald J. Trump eventually won the electoral college and thus the presidency. After all, Trump ran a brazen, alternative campaign that had more flair-ups than a case of herpes. From his misogynistic comments to bigoted statements regarding Muslims and Mexicans, Trump was deemed a surefire loser by most pundits in the media.
But then the unthinkable happened–he actually won. This braggadocious, spiteful man-child had caused one of the biggest political upsets in US history. It was a moment that had most comedians, political journalists, and other industry professionals dumbfounded and dumbstruck. How could such an egregiously asinine, petty and inexperienced individual ascend the White House? How was one to respond to the news?
To many, Trump’s victory signaled the shifting sociocultural tides within America. A new, alt-right viewpoint was gaining steam. But the Obama-era mainstream appears to be having none of it. With heels dug in and bayonets on the ready, both sides of the aisle seem increasingly unwilling to find any amicable bipartisanship in dealing with the social, political and ethical dilemmas plaguing the nation. The United States is as divided as it’s ever been and for late night hosts and comedians everywhere, this is a tricky and comically rich environment to be in. Stephen Colbert of “The Late Show” host sat down with New York Times veteran and “Veep” co-executive producer Frank Rich as part of Vulture Festival’s hosting of Colbert’s State of the Union to discuss Trumpmania, the increasingly fast-paced news cycle and finding those “The Late Show” sea legs.
The News Cycle that Never Stops
We’ve now entered a moment in which the news cycle has been reduced from days to hours. Further still, it appears fast approaching yet another evolution (or devolution, depending on how you see it) toward seconds. From the Russian election-meddling scandal to the firing of FBI director James Comey, there has been more potentially award-winning journalism in the span of a week than there has in a year. It’s a dizzying affair and one that appears to be increasingly more exhausting for late night hosts like Stephen Colbert.
Moderator Frank Rich noted, “almost everyone I know feels like it’s exhausting. Covering all these scandals is like having another job.” The Veep co-executive producer went on to conclude that “it’s really changed the whole culture of the country. It really is a television show that never stops.” Colbert agreed, equating Trump’s presidency to a man who’s in “a downhill stumble with an arm full of antique bottles or something. We’re afraid he’s going to fall and everything will shatter.” Colbert was quick to note, “right now it’s kind of amusing because he’s stumbling down the hill. We’re all going ‘look at the drunk guy trying to find the doorway.’ But he’s actually holding an arm full of babies which is our democracy. And every day it just gets faster and faster. So yes, it does get exhausting.”
Who Needs Jokes When You Have Trump’s Twitter Feed
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Trump has a special love for Twitter. From cultural degradations to policy discussion, Trump has been using the social media platform as a means of releasing statements catered to the short attention span world that we live in. Never has a president so unabashedly used social media as a platform to do everything from congratulating someone on their birthday to reaffirming his Muslim-discriminating rhetoric. It is a constant maelstrom of unpredictable dialogue, one that is unadvised and ill-informed.
And while that may be a terrifying revelation for most, it is nothing but a source of bewildered hilarity for Stephen Colbert. “We have Trump’s twitter feed on the video board,” revealed Colbert. The comedian went on to explain that “that video board has the script program and jokes we’re thinking about for the show But the third tab that is Trump’s twitter feed. Just to make sure we’re not missing the latest, um…dispatch. It can happen anytime of the day now.”
The Late Show host poignantly added that his problem with Trump is not his viewpoints–it’s his methods of explaining those viewpoints. “It’s sort of hackneyed to say I miss the ol’ boring days but what they were was boring civility. You wish for the stability of being able to say, ‘well we can have some time to figure out how to react’ not only for yourself but for your opponents too,” said Colbert. “You want to have the sense that everyone is one the same page–even for the opposition. You don’t know what’s happening with Donald Trump. That’s the scariest thing. It’s not that I disagree with him. It’s that I don’t know what the fuck he thinks,” finished Colbert to riotous applause.
Colbert May be a Master Comedian but Everyone Needs Time Sometimes
It’s hard taking over a bonafide legend’s place. That’s the crutch that many late night TV hosts feel when they are picked to be the successor to a show that, even in it’s lowest numbers, attracts nearly a million views–even if it is at 1:30am. But for Colbert, it was different. He was already an Emmy-award winning talk show host when he was tapped for “The Late Show,” having created one of the most endearing and sharply satirical postmodern political pundit characters in years. For most in the field, it was no-brainer to pick the Daily Show alum.
But even for the formidably witty Colbert, it took some time to win the hearts, and screens, of America back like he did with “The Colbert Report.” Frank Rich asked the host, “when you were doing “The Late Show” originally and were having trouble finding your groove, were you aware that you were having trouble?” Colbert responded, “there’s so much work involved with doing the show that knowing you can’t find your groove is an indulgence in a way. If I hadn’t been doing so many things, I would have known clearly that I wasn’t finding my groove. There’s so much work that there’s a sense that if you throw mo’ work at it, then it gets mo’ better [laughs].”
The comedian went on to reflect, “and after doing ten years of a show that was successful, the particular aesthetic choices of that show–because you’re not doing them anymore–are not in the forefront of your mind. What stays is, ‘how much work can I throw at it to find the thing.'” Colbert compared it to a car, saying, “so you think you can put your foot on the gas and the car will just go better, not just faster. But that was killing me and then you’re not having fun because you’re exhausted all the time and you can’t understand why it doesn’t feel like it’s clicking or the people in the room don’t seem to be connecting to the same idea.”
Colbert credits the inclusion of new executive producer Chris Licht as giving him the breathing room he needed to settle into his job, saying, “it wasn’t until Chris came on that things got better. He just took shit away from me. He’d say, ‘you don’t need to be in that meeting. Why are you here?’ I’d go to every meeting because I’m a control freak and Chris would say, ‘you’re not in this one!’ and I would walk out.” The actor-cum-comedian-cum-host concluded that Chris’ presence, “made all the difference in the world because then I just focused on what I did on stage or what I wanted to talk about that day.”
Check out “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on weeknights at 11:35 on CBS