Who is Stephen Colbert when he’s not “Stephen Colbert,” conservative pundit on Comedy Central?
As it happens, the comedian is trying to figure that out. That was the theme when Colbert made his first official appearance as the host of CBS’s “The Late Show” this week, during CBS’s upfront presentation in front of advertisers in New York City. In all the fuss over Letterman’s last week on air, some may have forgotten that Colbert is patiently waiting in the wings for the biggest gig of his life.
“Just be yourself,” urged CBS Corporation CEO Les Moonves while appearing in a pre-taped parody that showed Colbert on a botched attempt to do an “Eat, Pray, Love”-type mission to find his true identity. “You’re a white, male comedian with a nice haircut and a suit.”
“Ohhh,” Colbert said, his eyes lighting up. “I’m a talk show host!”
Jokes aside … well, that’s fairly accurate. So what else did the audience learn about the man who’s taking over David Letterman’s desk in September?
* He claims he won’t stay away from controversy.
Colbert noted it was “impossible” to capture the enormous contribution that Letterman made to comedy and television over the years. But to pay tribute, “we will do the best show we possibly can and occasionally make the network very angry at us,” he said. Cue nervous laughter from CBS executives.
* He’s not afraid to make fun of his own network.
Why is CBS known as the Tiffany network? That was the name of CBS founder William Paley’s favorite stripper, of course! According to Colbert.
He also listed CBS hit shows, including “CSI” “NCIS,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “NCIS: New Orleans” and “NCIS: CSI Division.” So apparently Colbert also likes corny dad jokes.
* He will continue to make fun of himself.
Colbert explained that it’s tough to discover who you really are when you’ve been playing the same character for 10 years, especially when he has your own name. “Who is Steven Colbert?” he wondered out loud. He noted that his wife had the same question, literally — hey, he worked some long hours at Comedy Central. “I love you…I want to say, Denise?” he said.
To help, he took the “Which member of One Direction are you?” Buzzfeed quiz: He’s a Harry. But that’s nothing compared to some of the other personas he joked that he had been testing out, showing off photos of him dressed in various costumes: Homeless sea captain; Sean Connery wannabe; Russian strongman; a Kardashian; and a certain presidential candidate:
Through his entire bit, we couldn’t help but notice the question remained: Who is Stephen Colbert? Besides the many jokes, we didn’t get any actual answers.
Then again, maybe that’s the mystery that will make people tune in on Sept. 8, Colbert’s official debut. Given how everything in broadcast network late-night TV looks pretty much the same these days, he has plenty of options to stand out.