Stephen Colbert finally — and unapologetically — responded to criticism of his vulgar oral-sex joke about President Trump that led to a #firecolbert hashtag and a call to boycott advertisers of his CBS show.
“Welcome to ‘The Late Show,’ I’m your host Stephen Colbert,” he said at the top of Wednesday’s broadcast. “Still? Am I still the host?”
Thrusting his arms in the air, he added: “I’m still the host!”
“Now,” he continued, “folks, if you saw my monologue Monday, you know that I was a little upset with Donald Trump for insulting a friend of mine. So, at the end of that monologue, I had a few choice insults for the president in return. I don’t regret that.
“I believe he can take care of himself. I have jokes; he has the launch codes. So, it’s a fair fight.”
Colbert’s response came after mounting criticism from Trump supporters and conservatives spread on social media.
Though President Trump has for months been the target of Colbert’s pointed jokes and mockery, many critics said he went too far Monday in making an oral-sex joke about Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a blistering broadside.
This would be a fireable offense in better times. Worst thing about many Trump critics is they use him as an excuse to act as awful or worse https://t.co/7kIsJYHVnn
— T. Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) May 2, 2017
#FireColbert began trending on Twitter.
A new account called @firecolbert emerged, tweeting: “It’s time to #FireColbert! It’s time he be removed from CBS. Let your voice be heard! #Boycott all of Stephen Colbert’s advertisers.”
There is also a new website, firecolbert.com.
Colbert made the Trump-Putin joke after the president walked out of an interview with CBS News political director John Dickerson, whom Colbert has called a friend.
“Mr. Trump, your presidency, I love your presidency; I call it ‘Disgrace the Nation,'” Colbert joked.
“The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c— holster.”
Trump supporters and others took to Twitter, calling the joke homophobic.
The fact that Colbert can make homophobic statements shows his privilege & systematic oppression of minority groups.#FireColbert
— Scott Presler (@ScottPresler) May 3, 2017
Homophobia for the right cause, with the right targets, is good homophobia, apparently. https://t.co/4rLd1wfTfA
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 2, 2017
As the backlash swelled, Colbert’s camp was silent. A “Late Show” spokeswoman and the comedian’s agent did not respond to requests for comment, and Colbert did not address the controversy on Tuesday’s show — or on his Twitter feed.
But Wednesday night, he opened his show by discussing the now-infamous joke.
“While I would do it again, I would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be,” he said. “I’m not going to repeat the phrase. But I just want to say, for the record, life is short, and anyone who expresses their love in their own way, is to me an American hero. I think we can all agree on that.
“I hope even the president and I can agree on that. Nothing else. But, that.”
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) May 4, 2017
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) May 4, 2017
Colbert’s monologues have largely focused on Trump, his aides and their gaffes. And his lampooning of the president seems to have paid off.
Just last year, he was trailing far behind Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show.” Colbert managed to narrow down Fallon’s lead and eventually topped his competition. By late March, Colbert’s show was averaging nearly 3 million viewers, about 400,000 more than Fallon’s.
But as The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers wrote, by joking about oral sex, Colbert “rushed the bro-ternity” of Alex Jones, who once said that Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) “looks like the archetypal c—sucker,” and Jesse Watters, who came under fire for a not-so-subtle joke about Ivanka Trump “speaking into that microphone.”
Sitting on a panel on “The Fox News Specialists” on Tuesday, Karl Rove, who was a senior adviser in the administration of former president George W. Bush, called the jokes “lewd,” “obscene” and “inappropriate.”
“They wrote this. This was not a rant that he came up with on the top of this head. They wrote this,” Rove said, adding later: “I’m going to continue to do what I do with anything Colbert. I’m going to refuse to watch the SOB.”
Many demanded an apology.
#FireColbert colbert needs to apologize to the American people! Or someone needs to punch his lights out.
— Cynthia Lou (@CindyBartholom3) May 3, 2017
Colbert went over the top last night. CBS should at least suspend him for what he said about Trump. CBS should apologize. "Over the top"!
— Applejack (@applejack_70) May 3, 2017
Others hijacked the trending hashtag with sarcastic jabs at Colbert’s critics:
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) May 3, 2017
1) OMG they are censoring Milo!!!!
2) Dear sweet Jesus in heaven, stop stealing Ann Coulter's 1st Amendment rights!!!
— William K. Wolfrum (@Wolfrum) May 3, 2017
Colbert began his scathing monologue Monday night by making fun of Trump’s comments about the first 100 days in office, which the president called a “ridiculous standard.”
“Trump has repeatedly said that this 100 days is totally arbitrary, okay. Totally unimportant. And to prove how unimportant it is, he took out a TV ad, he cut a cake on Air Force One, and he held a rally in Pennsylvania,” Colbert said. “The theme of that rally, ‘Promises Made, Promises Kept.’ Which is better than the original slogan, ‘Promises made, never mind, never said it, fake news, watch Fox & Friends.’ ”
He then turned to how Trump abruptly ended the interview with Dickerson, after the “Face the Nation” host asked him if he stands by his claims that President Barack Obama had wiretapped him.
Trump’s response to the question was replayed on Colbert’s show:
“I don’t stand by anything,” Trump told Dickerson.
That’s when Colbert said: “It’s true. He doesn’t stand by anything except the dressing room door at Miss USA Pageant. … Who needs a lotion?”
But it was Trump telling Dickerson that he was a purveyor of “fake news” and calling his show “Deface the Nation” that seems to have set Colbert off.
In an interview Wednesday with Newsmax TV, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency does not get into the business of regulating content. The Supreme Court, he said, has placed some limits on the authority of the FCC, which regulates communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable.
“It’s a free country. People are willing and able to say just about anything these days,” Pai said, adding later that unless a content is indecent, obscene or profane by FCC standards, the agency’s authority is “pretty limited.”
This post has been updated.