Stephen Colbert Gives Voice To National Anger Over Trump
There is no safe place for Donald Trump on late-night television. Each of the three main networks have talk show hosts who are not in alignment in any way with where the nation headed last November. James and I watch the monologues each weeknight from both Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert and while the jokes were pithy during the campaign the tone has turned more biting and direct since the election. The mood of the nation is reflected in late night shows, and no one better feels the pulse of the majority of the citizens than Colbert.
I watch not only to be entertained but also use the monologues as a barometer of where we are as a nation. College students are up late watching, and the politically tuned in make these shows part of their intake so to measure the tone of the moment. I am struck by the fact there are curse words used and bleeped out with more regularity now than before. There is a deep-seated resentment for the ills that some voters allowed our nation to be saddled with for the next four years.
Colbert does his job with panache and verve and as we noted in our living room is making a stronger and stronger message as the weeks go by. The nation is noting the same.
Seventeen months in, Colbert seems more at ease in his role, even as he parades nightly his discomfort with the direction in which the nation is heading. His suits look more comfortable, bearing a cut befitting a man in his 50s, rather than the short, tight numbers CBS had him squeezed into early on. Even his show’s “cold opens” — the comic bits that come on before the title is announced — have become consistently funnier.
The raw, throbbing nerve that the election has exposed in Colbert is a big part of the reason he is winning now. People wondered, when he agreed to transition from his “Stephen Colbert” right-wing blowhard character on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” how he would do as a real person.
The answer is in front of us every weeknight: He’s never been more real than he is these days, and he’s never been more popular.
Winning viewers via dismay over the choice of the American people was no sure thing. When Colbert went live on election night, prepared, by his own account, to mark Hillary Clinton’s victory, the surprise result had him somewhere between discombobulated and distraught. And it was undisguised.
“This one is a nail-biter and a passport grabber,” Colbert said, early on, as the tide was turning against Clinton. “It feels like we’re trying to avoid the apocalypse, and half of the country is voting for the asteroid.”
Later, when the likely result was clear, so was Colbert, in an ad-lib: “I’m not sure it’s a comedy show at this point. I think we’re in the middle of a documentary right now.”
Yet instead of smoothing out those emotions after the election, instead of getting over it, more or less, Colbert embraced them. He set himself up as the opposition, delivering sharp-tongued rebukes to every Trump faux pas, which left him an abundance of material. And as the Trump presidency moved from impending to actual, viewers have trickled Colbert’s way.