Stephen Colbert says working without a live audience during the pandemic was challenging: “It’s missing an important spark of adrenaline for performance.” Scott Kowalchyk / CBS hide caption
Scott Kowalchyk / CBS
Scott Kowalchyk / CBS
It’s a strange thing to do a late night show on your own with no live audience. But when the pandemic hit last year, the Late Show host had to adjust with Stephen Colbert.
First, Colbert recorded his show from home with his wife and sons as a crew – an experience he describes as a kind of “home industry” of the 19th century.
“The kids will come and help dad cut the wood every day or something,” he jokes. But he adds that it is also “intimate and wonderful and something I would never experience any other way”.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is now back at the Ed Sullivan Theater, but Colbert is not working on the stage. Instead, it is broadcasting from an office that used to be a closet – and it is still without a studio audience.
“It’s much more difficult without an audience. … A crucial spark of adrenaline is missing,” he says. “It’s far more likely that I’ll screw something up and take it back, lose the rhythm of a joke, or just get the prompt wrong.”
Colbert isn’t always alone – his wife Evie is in the room sometimes. He says if he can get a “real happy laugh” from his Evie, he knows he’s on the right track.
“I really enjoy hearing her laugh,” he says. “I wanted something intimate with [the audience] and that intimacy and that real happy laugh that comes with joking with Evie, I had always thought: if I could do it, then I could do it because it was going to be special. “
About the loneliness of producing his show during the pandemic
I’ve gotten into show business so much that I’m not alone. Like many comedians, I’m a bit of a broken toy.
I miss people. I really like the company of people. I miss going to dinner. I am a hug. I like to hug people randomly. I feel very lonely. I go to the theater to actually produce the show. We rewrite everything from home, everyone is home and me and a very small group of people … I only see about four or five of them … others come in and come in at staggered intervals throughout the day this little closet where we do the show and i do the show and i go as fast as i can. So we’re all together for the shortest possible amount of time, maybe a couple of hours, and then we all go home and get ready to write the show from home again the next day. And it’s lonely. I’ve gotten into show business so much that I’m not alone. Like many comedians, I’m a bit of a broken toy.
How writing love letters to Evie helped him become a writer
I couldn’t write anything until after meeting Evie … because the physical act of writing was actually painful for me. What was on my mind wasn’t going to be on the page. I would literally write the wrong words I was thinking and that would torment me so much that I would just give up. And it wasn’t until I met Evie and she lived in New York and I lived in Chicago that we couldn’t afford to talk on the phone because we were both young actors and couldn’t afford to see each other. So if I wanted to talk to her, I had to write her a letter every day, and so I wrote her every day. …
“I really enjoy hearing her laugh,” says Stephen Colbert of his wife Evie. Scott Kowalchyk / CBS hide caption
Scott Kowalchyk / CBS
Scott Kowalchyk / CBS
This girl was very important to me. I knew I had to take my shot here or I would kick myself for the rest of my life. So I took the time to be specific and say what I meant and not say anything I didn’t. And that opened up to the idea that maybe I could write, but they were all love letters. Shortly thereafter, I was able to write my own material in Second City, and these two things are related in my opinion: my ability to break this aversion to the physical act of writing and my ability to finally break through to generate material for myself .
Why he turned to science fiction and fantasy in his grief when his brothers and father were killed in a plane crash as a child
Everything is possible [in fantasy stories]. Often it is a young man who has extraordinary powers that he did not have at the beginning of the story. In fantasy stories there is a “chosen one”. Often a father figure is missing – if it is not just about orphans. … I think able to do … An alternate world where there are new rules, or the character you identify with can make their own rules, maybe even bring back the dead or make things impossible … I think that has to do with being yourself are in a constant state of sadness and fear and need a place to escape to.
When Trump realized during a live show that he would win the 2016 election
Just because you know something is possible doesn’t mean it isn’t terrible when you see it. What was on my mind? “Wow. I can’t believe I’m live for an hour with no commercial breaks to take the camera off of me.”
It felt extremely raw. And the only thing I knew is that you cannot pretend to be anything other than who you are right now, which is absolutely appalling for your country because I saw the next four years in a flash and there was almost nothing , almost nothing in the next four years that felt too extreme to me because I felt it all and a disgusting wave of reality about what the status of that office would convey to this horrible man and how someone who desires attention above everything else will not only get it now, but rightly get it. There is no argument that he is the most powerful person. Everything he says will matter. This is the President’s conduct now, as well as the implications, dignity and importance and status imposed on anyone who comes into that office, appalled me. And suddenly, although I knew that nothing about him would change, everything about him would now convey the dignity of the great seal.
About what it took to be funny in its monologues during the Trump era
The thing that required work was to be sensitive to how bizarre this was because there was an attempt by the administration to openly flood everyone’s emotional boat so that one could surrender to the new reality, and it was not the task surrender to the new reality. … The job was to keep reminding the audience that the world is crazy, you are not. That you are being fed poison by the people who are supposed to help you. You are being fed lies. You will be amazed by the reality. … And we’re going to talk about what it’s like in reality and make jokes at the same time, because the other tool of authoritarianism besides lying is fear. And make no mistake, this is a purely authoritative guide.
… when you laugh, you cannot be afraid at the same time. So if you can laugh, you can think.
But … when you laugh, you can’t be scared at the same time. So if you can laugh, you can think. And so we are going to talk about trying to lie to you and we are going to make you laugh at the same time so that you are not afraid of the reality they are trying to twist around you with lies. And then you’ll feel better and we can do it again tomorrow. So, to do any of this, you had to stay shocked yourself. From time to time there was someone on the staff who said one of the writers or producers said, “Hey, I think this is one of those times we have to run over the car; there we got a little freeway here mesmerized” , and we would metaphorically run over the car, get out, run around, maybe throw ourselves in a ditch and go, “Hey, so what actually happened today? We’re not sure how awful this is, right” We have to put our nerves on it keep really raw. “
In his 2015 interview with Joe Biden when they were educating themselves emotionally about the losses in their life
After Joe Biden came he walked off the stage and I said to my executive producer Tom Purcell, “I think this nice old man just gave me my show.” And what I meant was how [to] Actually speak to someone like me because what he was sharing with me at that moment was so intimate and spoke so specifically with my own experience that the only way to receive it was truly the real me. And it tore open something for me when he spoke to me. And as soon as I said, “that nice old man,” I said, “Oh, damn, he’s going to see this and he’s not going to like it.”
And I’m sure I got a call the next day … and my assistant says: “What is he calling you about?” I said, “He’s calling me about the nice thing about the old man.” And she says, “No, he won’t care.” I say, “If he’s running for president, he’ll really care. Then I’ll know if he’s running for president.” And so I got the call and … I put it on the speaker and he said, “Listen, buddy, if you ever call me a ‘nice old man’ again I’ll come down there and personally kick your ass! “And I said,” I promise I won’t, sir. You are clearly not that nice. “
Amy Salit and Kayla Lattimore produced and edited the tone of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper, and Beth Novey customized it for the web.