It’s a historic night: After many months of anticipation, Stephen Colbert officially takes over the “Late Show” from David Letterman.
He starts…with a song. “The Star-Spangled Banner” to be exact, as he travels around the country singing the anthem with a bunch of random people. He’s on a baseball diamond when all of a sudden the catcher rips off his mask…it’s Jon Stewart. “Play ball!” he roars.
Cut to the studio! Colbert starts in a kick line, and there’s massive applause as he begins his monologue.
“Hello nation,” he says. “If I knew you were going to do that, I would have come out here months ago.” He says he’s excited to be there, but way more excited for six hours later when he’s watching the show at home.
He notes the long wait from the host announcement until his debut. “As long as I have nine months to make one hour of TV, I could do this forever,” he jokes. He says he’s been looking all this time for the “real” Stephen Colbert: “I just hope I don’t find him on Ashley Madison.”
Colbert makes some jokes about CBS programming and waves to CBS chairman Les Moonves in a corner, who’s sitting next to a giant switch that says “Mentalist” on it — ready to change the channel to the canceled drama if Colbert’s “Late Show” doesn’t work out.
One Donald Trump joke later, and it’s time to say hello to house band Jon Batiste and Stay Human. They’re going to play the new “Late Show” theme song alongside the new opening credits, which sort of looks like claymation if you look too quickly.
Behind the desk
No sooner does Colbert take a seat then the crowd starts yelling: “Steph-en! Steph-en! Steph-en!” just like on “The Colbert Report.” Colbert gives a shout out to Biff Henderson, naturally, and then decides Letterman deserves a mention too. “I am a first-generation Letterman fan,” he says, adding he started college the same year Dave started in late-night. “It’s possible to lose sight of how much Dave changed comedy…we sometimes need to remind ourselves how tall he stands.”
Colbert shows off his fancy new studio, including a TV behind the desk that’s showing…Jimmy Fallon, who starts speaking through the TV. They compare guest lists and Colbert’s is much better.
Things get weird as Colbert informs us that the studio is haunted by a cursed amulet — that doesn’t stop growling until Colbert mentions that night’s sponsor, Sabra hummus and snacks. This goes on for awhile until Colbert strokes a fake monkey paw (no really) that might save him from the amulet. It’s even stranger than it sounds.
“Guys,” Colbert asks. “Can we talk about the election for a second?” True to his promise about telling lots of Donald Trump jokes, he shows a clip of Trump talking about how Nabisco moved a factory to Mexico, so he’s never eating Oreos again. Colbert starts eating an Oreo to make a point and gets distracted because it’s so delicious.
“Trump’s anti-Oreo stance puts other Republicans in a tough spot here. He’s forcing them to decide between alienating Latino voters and eating Hydrox,” Colbert says, gagging at the thought of the Oreo alternative. Colbert helps himself to several more clips of Trump, including the one where a woman pulls at Trump’s hair to see if it’s real. “See? What’s on top of his head is actually his,” Colbert says, between stuffing Oreos in his mouth. “Now it’s up to science to decide whether it’s actually hair.”
First guest: George Clooney! He doesn’t have a movie coming out, but he’s so nice that he just wants to stop by. Colbert pivots to serious very quickly, asking Clooney about why he cares so much about helping other countries that don’t even help pay for his movie career. So Clooney talks about how he got interested in raising awareness about Darfur. (It all started when he read Nicholas Kristof’s articles in the New York Times.)
Time for some marriage talk: “What is it like to be the arm candy in a relationship?” Colbert asks of his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin. Clooney laughs but confirms things are going very well. As a wedding present, Colbert gives Clooney with an engraved paperweight that says “I don’t know you.” After all, Colbert says, he doesn’t want to be the type of talk show host that pretends he actually knows celebrities in real life.
Then they fall into a faux-awkward silence as Colbert asks Clooney to just pretend he has something to promote — so they run a fake trailer for a thriller called “Decision Strike” where he appears to be defusing a bomb. It looks pretty good.
It’s Colbert’s first political candidate (and presidential contender), Jeb Bush. Bush notes that Colbert has a ton of pictures of himself in the studio. Colbert acknowledges this. “I used to play a narcissistic conservative pundit,” he says. “Now I’m just a narcissist.”
Colbert asks a pretty simple question: Why does Bush want to be president? “Cause I think we’re on the verge of the greatest time to be alive, but our government isn’t working,” he responds. “But Washington is a complete basket case.” Later he concedes that both sides of the aisle can work together. “I don’t think Barack Obama has bad motives. I just think he’s wrong on a lot of issues,” he says. Silence in the studio. “Oh, you were so close to getting them to clap!: Colbert says, advising Bush that he needs to pause to give the crowd time to clap, then hit them with the part they don’t want to hear.
“There is a non-zero chance I would vote for you,” Colbert tells Bush. They talk about more of Bush’s ideas for helping the country and some of his work in Florida, and then segues into Bush’s campaign poster which just reads “Jeb!” Colbert makes fun of it for awhile. He asks about Bush’s mom saying that maybe we don’t need another Bush family member or Clinton in the White House, and Bush assures Colbert she was just kidding.
Time to instigate some family drama: Colbert gives a shout-out to his own family members in the audience, and then asks Bush to critique some of his brother’s presidential policies. “Without in any way diminishing your love for your brother, in what ways do you politically differ from your brother, George?” Bush responds that his brother didn’t control Republican congressional spending enough. Meanwhile, Bush says that in Florida, he’s so conservative on spending that his nickname is “Veto Corleone.” Colbert likes that, but points out “He is an anti-hero in that movie.”
The episode concludes with a special performance from house band Jon Batiste and Stay Human, singing “Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone with lots of special guests: Mavis Staples, Aloe Blacc, Ben Folds, Buddy Guy, Derek Trucks, Brittany Howard, etc. Plus, Colbert on vocals. The song quickly turns into a dance party for the whole audience.
(This post has been updated multiple times.)