Sporting a fancy pair of glasses, Stephen Colbert arrived on the “Late Show” Tuesday night to sit down with David Letterman and chat about the future — a future that will, of course, see Colbert take over for Letterman next year when the longtime late-night host retires sometime in 2015, as CBS recently announced .
“You look right at home,” Letterman said approvingly to the Comedy Central star as he sat down to wild applause.
What followed was a breezy, entertaining conversation, chock full of one-liners and self-deprecation, things that each late-night host excels at. Both Letterman and Colbert — who was obviously himself, and not his satirical “Stephen Colbert” character — seemed to enjoy the chat while simultaneously acknowledging the inherent weirdness of the situation. Case in point: Colbert brought his own Top 10 list, and Letterman seemed genuinely confused that Colbert got the traditional Top 10 intro music and graphics before he read the list out loud.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, he doesn’t get that yet! He doesn’t have the job yet,” Letterman exclaimed, as the audience cracked up and Colbert exaggeratedly mouthed “thank you” in the direction of Paul Shaffer and the band.
However, it was clear from the beginning of the interview that Colbert hasn’t been kidding when he’s talked about how Letterman has been his idol since his college days. That included his future plans for the show. “I’m going to do whatever you have done,” Colbert told Letterman right away.
“No, you don’t want to do that,” Letterman immediately started to argue.
“Really, no?” Colbert asked. “It seems to have gone pretty well, Dave.”
“It’s gone … on,” Letterman said, laughing.
“Well, obviously I’m thrilled and honored to be taking over for you,” said Colbert, starting to get real.
“Well, I’m thrilled as well,” Letterman told him. “Because in a situation like this — Paul and I have been doing this for a long, long time — they could have just as easily hired another boob like me. But they didn’t, they hire a guy — ”
“They hire a boob like me,” Colbert cut him off.
“No, no no no,” Letterman started to say.
“Every boob is like a snowflake, Dave,” Colbert clarified. “We’re all unique in our own way.”
Letterman loved that, but is always more comfortable talking about other people — he steered the conversation to Colbert’s previous attempts to get hired by “The Late Show.” “You actually got a job or were an intern or tried to get a job here?” Letterman asked.
Turns out, Colbert actually tagged along with his girlfriend in 1986 when she was applying for an internship at Letterman’s old “Late Night” talk show at NBC. While his girlfriend was in her interview, Colbert waited in the hallway, and a “Late Night” staffer walking by thought Colbert was also waiting to interview. Colbert just went with it and wound up getting an offer. His girlfriend did not — the relationship did not last.
But Colbert turned it down. “I did not take the internship,” he said.
“Why is that?” Letterman asked.
“Because you did not pay people,” Colbert fired back.
“The next job I’m taking here, it pays, right?” he added, to much laughter.
Letterman prodded Colbert to tell more family stories, but Colbert just said his wife and kids are worried he’s going to hang around the house too often when his show ends. After all, “The Colbert Report” wraps at the end of the year, and Letterman still hasn’t set an end date. By the way, “When are you leaving?” Colbert inquired. “I should have asked.” (Letterman had no idea.)
Anyway, Colbert’s family is nervous about his schedule becoming a lot more flexible. “I think they like me, but they get nervous when I’m around too much,” he said.
Letterman asked Colbert if he relaxes well, and the answer was no. “I don’t know why you do comedy, but it’s not because everything’s all right up here, for me,” Colbert said, gesturing to his head. “It’s not a normal thing to do with your life…. I don’t have the constitution for hard-core alcoholism, so I have to tell jokes all the time or I go a little insane. I had last week off, and it didn’t go well.”
“Have you tried the alcoholism at all?” Letterman offered.
“I get sleepy,” Colbert confessed. “If I had more muscle mass or something like that, I might be able to process vodka.”
Then there were a couple other anecdotes, like the time Colbert broke his wrist while running around like a maniac on his set, but refused to see a doctor because he was going on a two-week vacation and didn’t want to have a cast. He said he also managed to build a boat with the broken wrist. (“I Built a Boat with a Busted Wrist: The Stephen Colbert Story,” Letterman intoned.)
Then they took a selfie, because apparently that’s the law now. It was abrupt: “Do you have your phone ready to go?” Letterman asked out of nowhere. Colbert looked thrown for a minute but then fumbled for his phone. “Oh hell yeah, at all times,” Colbert said. “You and me? Can we do a selfie?”
Letterman seemed nonplussed: “Is this still what people do?” he wondered. “This is actually very retro now,” Colbert assured him.
— Letterman (@Letterman) April 23, 2014
Finally, before he departed, Colbert read a Top 10 List that he had sent to the show in 1997 when he and his writing partner, Paul Dinello, were trying to get hired by “The Late Show” on CBS. (They didn’t get a call back until months later, and by that point, they were already working on Comedy Central’s “Strangers With Candy.”) Alas, they still had the Top 10 List they had submitted with their writing sample, and Colbert brought it along on his own blue card.
“Wow, you’ve come prepared,” Letterman remarked.
Colbert got his very own aforementioned fancy Top 10 intro and music before reading the list, which was called “The Top 10 Cocktails for Santa.”
10. The Rusty Blitzen
9. Mama Said Nog You Out
8. Pa Rum Pa Pum Rum
7. Vodka Giblet (“I don’t think you would have hired me at this point,” Colbert admitted.)
6. Scrooge Driver
5. No Room at the Gin
4. On Comet, On Cupid, On Dasher, Wine Spritzer
3. King of the Juice
2. Jack Frost
1. Silent Nighttrain
Everyone applauded, and the two hosts said goodbye. “Always a pleasure, my friend,” Letterman said with a smile. “Good luck with the show.”