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The Case Against the Late Show with Stephen Colbert (or Wag of the Finger)

Today it was confirmed that Stephen Colbert would replace David Letterman on CBS’ Late Show.
Today is a sad day.

As a big fan of Stephen Colbert, I am not happy.
The Colbert Report is–was (*sigh*) the smartest dry-wit satire on television. It surpassed The Daily Show years ago in that regard.
This kind of feels like my parents are divorcing.

It is, truly, the end of an era.

The Report

I’ve been watching the Report since it premiered in 2005. Since truthiness was “The Word” and he danced with Barney Frank, all the way through his Peabodys, Emmys, On Notices, Olympic try-outs, shaved head, the HD transition, and Better Knows (plus bonus Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear). Ever since it began, I count it among 3 still-on-the-air shows I haven’t missed a single episode of (with The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live). I’ve also attended a few tapings because, well, I love it.

(RIP Ham Rove. Never forget.)

The brilliance of the Report has, and will always be, its ability to shine a grotesque light on complex political or social problems.
It transcended The Daily Show‘s mere “news mocking” a while ago, and it has only grown stronger since.
The Colbert Report made us laugh, but it also made us care. The Stephen Colbert show successfully exposed political maneuverings that only someone with the reach of an entire nation (the Colbert Nation that is), could showcase in its ugliness. PACs, political campaigns, congressional hearings, over-expenditures, social issues. Take your pick.

Many have written better pieces praising the genius that is The Colbert Report, so I’ll simply say this:
When The Colbert Report finally ends, it will be great loss to American television.

The Character

In addition to losing The Colbert Report, we’re also losing the most important member of the Colbert Nation.
In fact, despite having watched over a thousand episodes, I still don’t really know Stephen Colbert. I only know Stephen Colbert (c).

The greatness of the Report, and what clearly has drawn such a fan base, is the genius that is Stephen Colbert (c).
His caricature has been so honed over the years, that Colbert is the only person to have a Wikipedia entry for himself and his alt persona.
I’ve seen Colbert in Exit 57 and Strangers with Candy, and both were fun, but neither approach the power he has when he is Stephen Colbert (c).

Having a character that is a caricature gives him (and us) an excuse to say things he would not otherwise be able to express. In other words, freedom.
Do people remember Stephen Colbert (c)’s take-down of George W. Bush at the Correspondents’ Dinner?
The true success of the character is how he uses that character. He gives us an uncomfortable reflection of our society, all through comedy.

His amazing interview skills were able to be used because of the freedom to “grill” political guests, or controversial people.
Stephen Colbert is clearly extremely talented, yet all the things that we (the audience) appreciate about him have almost entirely been through the lens of Stephen Colbert (c).

If the #CancelColbert campaign has taught us anything, it’s that we need Stephen Colbert (c) now more than ever.

The Late Show

I don’t think network late-night has seen anything remotely “edgy” or political since–well–ever.
And this trend will probably continue given that Late Show with Stephen Colbert will not be hosted by his character.
He is apparently bringing his entire Report staff over, but will they be able to produce the same comedic genius they have been for the past decade?

What I fear most is that, simply put, Stephen Colbert’s talents will be wasted on a a-political network late show.
He’ll have twice the screen-time to fill, on a network, with the FCC breathing down his neck, and mainstream stars to interview. And all without Stephen Colbert (c).
Of course, all of this is still over a year away, and nobody really knows what The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is going to look like.
But regardless of the end-product, it is almost a guarantee that it won’t be as subversive, as political, as satirical, or even as funny as The Colbert Report.
Because it just can’t.

I’m happy for Stephen Colbert.
I’m just not happy for the rest of us.

And that’s the word.

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