In the middle of his interview on “The Late Show” last Thursday night, comedian Billy Eichner abruptly turned to Stephen Colbert.
“This was your week,” he told the host. “You killed it this week.”
Maybe it’s just a coincidence or maybe it’s the TV scheduling gods, but this really was the perfect time for Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” – airing live during the Republican National Convention – to have a really good week.
That’s because about two weeks ago, “Late Late Show” host James Corden landed an Emmy nomination for best variety talk show, and Colbert was left out. The snub had to sting, especially as Colbert is still trying to adjust to the mainstream after a decade playing his famous faux-conservative pundit on Comedy Central – while Corden has become the network’s breakout star thanks to his viral “Carpool Karaoke” skits.
The Emmy snub only increased whispers about what some have been wondering lately: Would CBS switch the two shows and give Corden the coveted 11:35 p.m. slot? In a Hollywood Reporter story last week, CBS entertainment president Glen Geller denied the rumors, although he said the first 10 months of Colbert’s “Late Show” have been “uneven.” Still, THR wrote, “network executives hope the convention shows will remind viewers of Colbert’s talent for incisive political satire.”
Happily for CBS, Colbert indeed looked more comfortable than ever covering the GOP convention in Cleveland. (“It has been a target-rich environment,” Colbert admitted to Eichner.) The show earned the all-important buzz and critical praise that it really needs at this very moment. And Colbert still has this week left to go, as he tackles the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
“A seemingly re-energized Colbert rose to the occasion,” wrote USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco. “The live shows gave ‘The Late Show’ the urgency it has sometimes lacked until now.”
He had help from old friends: Predictably, the audience went crazy on Thursday night when his former Comedy Central pal Jon Stewart made a special appearance, crawling out from under Colbert’s desk. Stewart took a few minutes to rip into Donald Trump and Fox News, essentially creating a segment that would have been right at home on “The Daily Show.”
Another viral moment happened last Tuesday, when actress Laura Benanti performed a dead-on impression of Melania Trump’s speech, which was revealed to have lifted passages from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention address. A nearly unrecognizable Benanti echoed Melania’s accent as she insisted she did not plagiarize her speech: “That is because I learned honesty during my humble upbringing ... in West Philadelphia, born and raised, on the playground is where I spent most of my days.”
Stewart also appeared last Monday, doing quite the spit take when Colbert informed Stewart, who has apparently been living off the grid in the woods making his own kale jerky, that Trump is the Republican presidential nominee.
Colbert’s opening sketch that Monday was also popular, as he launched into a Broadway-style number called “Christmas in July” about what viewers could expect from the convention. Then he channeled his Ceasar Flickerman “Hunger Games” impression as he ran around Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, pointing out fun facts about various delegations: “The New Jersey delegation has saved one front seat for Chris Christie to have the best possible view of the end of his career.”
There’s no telling how long this will silence talk about the fate of Colbert’s “Late Show.” The host himself is well aware about the rumors and isn’t taking the criticism lightly. “Of course that makes you feel bad,” he told THR of the Corden gossip. “But it doesn’t jibe with what I know about our show, so you recover.”