Stephen Colbert replaces David Letterman: How political will 'Late Show' be?

Stephen Colbert has testified before Congress and run for 'president.' In the US government policy wonk-o-sphere, news he would replace David Letterman was the biggest thing going Thursday afternoon.

Worldwide Pants Inc./CBS/AP
This May 4, 2011 image from video shows host David Letterman (l.) shaking hands with fellow talk show host Stephen Colbert of 'The Colbert Report,' during a surprise visit on the 'Late Show with David Letterman,' in New York. CBS on Thursday, April 10, 2014, announced that Colbert will succeed Letterman as the host of 'The Late Show.'

It’s true – Stephen Colbert is taking over for David Letterman. On Thursday CBS announced that Mr. Colbert, the pretend-blowhard host of the fictionally right-leaning “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, will succeed Mr. Letterman as host of “The Late Show” in 2015.

Colbert has signed a five-year contract with CBS. His deal with Comedy Central expires at the end of the year, so for him, Letterman’s announcement that he was retiring came at a good time.

“Simply being a guest on David Letterman’s show has been a highlight of my career,” Colbert said in a statement. “I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave’s lead.”

Colbert added that he was off to grind a Lettermanesque gap in his front teeth.

In the US government policy wonk-o-sphere, this news was the biggest thing going on Thursday afternoon. That’s because to this point Colbert has been a highly political performance artist, someone who’s testified before Congress on his (comedic) attempt to work as a migrant agricultural laborer, and set up his own nonprofit political organization to highlight the absurdities of US campaign finance law.

Sure, late night hosts have joked about presidents and other aspects of US politics for decades. But Colbert takes it to another level. He’s funny, and serious, in a funny kind of way.

“Truth is Colbert taking over Late Show probably more politically significant than notional passage of Ryan Budget,” tweeted Josh Marshall at the left-leaning Talking Points Memo site.

Remember, in 2012 an otherwise-reputable pollster decided to include Colbert’s name in a poll of South Carolina Republicans prior to that state’s primary. He got five percent – enough for him to announce that he was running for president. Not of the United States – of South Carolina.

“God bless America and God bless ‘Citizens United,’ ” Colbert said then, hat-tipping the Supreme Court decision that made his own super PAC possible.

Then Colbert’s super PAC paid for ads that purported to be against Colbert, but were really against the concept of super PACs, of which they made fun. Yes, it’s complicated – he’s a performance artist, like we said, not just a guy who tells jokes.

That’s why Washington is so excited about the prospect of a Colbert late night show. It’s like he’s a combination of Jack Paar and Ezra Klein. (Don’t know who that is? He’s a new wave wonk journalist – Google him.)

Of course, it’ll be interesting to see if Colbert’s presumed liberalism comes through more clearly in his new show. According to broadcast industry reporter Bill Carter of the New York Times, Colbert says he’s going to drop the blowhard right-wing persona, modeled at least partly on Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.

Who will Stephen Colbert be without “Stephen Colbert” as a shtick and shield?

“I can’t be the only one wondering of it’s going to be Stephen Colbert or “Stephen Colbert.” Is there even a Stephen Colbert left anymore?” tweeted Mollie Hemingway, a senior editor at The Federalist.

Others noted that Colbert talks occasionally about his own Catholicism in a serious way, so it will also be interesting to see how he handles the intersection of faith and public policy.

Meanwhile, other fictional political characters denied they’d been under consideration for the job. The Twitter feed of “Richard Nixon” posted a comment from Nixon press secretary “Ron Ziegler,” saying that “President Nixon was never in contact with CBS regarding any open position. His feelings regarding that network are well known.”

That clears that up, anyway.

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