Stephen Colbert on 'Late Show': How he showed he's a different late-night host

Colbert paid tribute to his predecessor David Letterman, poked fun at late-night talk show conventions, and chatted with guests Jeb Bush and George Clooney. The comedian comes to CBS after hosting Comedy Central's 'The Colbert Report.'

Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS Entertainment/AP
Stephen Colbert (r.) appears on 'Late Show' with Jeb Bush (l.).

Former “Colbert Report” host Stephen Colbert made his debut on CBS’s “Late Show” on Sept. 8, welcoming guests that included presidential candidate Jeb Bush and actor George Clooney.

Colbert comes to host the show following the retirement of David Letterman, who debuted on the program in 1993 following his depature from NBC.

Colbert’s first show included a filmed segment in which he traveled around the country singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” (and bowling) and which included his former “Daily Show” co-worker Jon Stewart dressed as an umpire, declaring, “Play ball!”

And he spent part of the beginning of his show paying tribute to the host that came before him. “I bow to no man in my fandom of Letterman,” he said. “It is possible to lose sight of how much Dave changed comedy… just for the record, I’m not replacing David Letterman… We will try to honor his achievement by doing the best show we can and occasionally making the network very mad at us.” He also talked briefly with NBC’s Jimmy Fallon, current host of “The Tonight Show.” 

In his interview with Bush, Colbert asked him about the campaign logo with an exclamation point (“It connotes excitement,” Bush said) and inquired how he’s different from his brother and why his mother, Barbara Bush, would say “We’ve had enough Bushes” when asked about another Bush president. Bush also told him, “I’m going to say something that’s heretic, I guess. I don’t think Barack Obama has bad motives. I just think he’s wrong on a lot of issues.”

When Colbert chatted with other guest Clooney, the two referenced the fact that the actor wasn’t in fact promoting a movie and made up a fake film titled “Decision Strike” which featured Clooney apparently attempting to defuse a nuclear bomb. Colbert also poked fun at the fact that despite the banter, he and Clooney (and by extension, sometimes other late-night show hosts and their guests) don’t really know each other all that well. After mentioning that there'd be more topics of conversation if Clooney had a movie to promote, Colbert told him, “We would always have something to talk about, because we’re friends,” which was then followed by the two sitting in silence.

The official musical guest was billed as “Mavis Staples and friends,” a group which included Staples, singer Ben Folds, Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes, and Buddy Guy performing “Everyday People” by Sly Stone.

While Colbert’s interview with Clooney did include the pre-taped “Decision Strike” segment, the former “Colbert Report” host is entering a late-night landscape that currently is known for – and could even be said to rely on – its YouTube-ready segments of celebrities and hosts participating in games or performing in some way. Jimmy Fallon’s incarnation of “The Tonight Show” is famous for its viral bits like stars Emma Stone and Tom Cruise, among many others, competing against Fallon in a lip-sync battle and comedian Kevin Hart riding a roller-coaster with Fallon. New host James Corden, who like Colbert is at CBS, has in some ways followed suit, with his “Late Late Show” “carpool karaoke” segments currently being his most popular. ABC host Jimmy Kimmel is probably most known for clips in which he has celebrities read “mean tweets” about themselves and encourages viewers to tell their children that they ate all their Halloween candy.

So far, Colbert’s show seems to be different – he didn’t face off against Bush in a game but merely had the kind of conversation he would have had on “Report,” minus Colbert’s old conservative persona. One of the portions of the “Late Show” that critics were most interested to see were the interviews and the interviewees he has coming up are a diverse group that includes Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick as well people that could be seen on any late-night show like movie stars Scarlett Johansson and Amy Schumer and musician Toby Keith.

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