Stephen Colbert Follows Suit; But Is the Joker a Card or a Player?

Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush chats with Stephen on the premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Tuesday Sept. 8, 2015 on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

Review by Google“>Shawn Stjean

It’s literally true that men’s suits are tailored too small these days, and visibly obvious as the veteran comedian struggles to fill the large seams of David Letterman’s/CBS’s Late Show.  For years following his apprenticeship as a correspondent on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, Colbert ran his own Comedy Central program back-to-back with Stewart’s, and the pairing guided liberals through the American media landscape with satire akin to a crime that, a few hundred years ago, anyone from Jonathan Swift to Benjamin Franklin’s brother could have been tossed into prison for.

Neither The Colbert Report nor The Daily Show ran perfectly: at just a half-hour per episode, four episodes per week (when we were lucky,) only four hours of content stood on offer, and half that devoted to increasingly lightweight interviews with authors promoting books, celebrities on junkets pimping movies, with an occasional human rights’ activist or even president thrown in.  But although a few real questions made it through, they were not often answered, with Stewart reduced to posting extra content online.  Still, these retirements left a couple of hours that America could ill-afford to lose: the foibles of politicians mocked, the mis-doings of the corporate power structure targeted.  I haven’t been this disappointed by a major player cashing out since Borders bookstores folded.  Colbert, in his persona as a staunch reactionary, remained impervious for a decade or so to the slippery slope we’re all on; meanwhile, his mentor couldn’t help but take it more personally.  Perhaps both men wished to move on before machinery of the 2016 election season really got cranked up: Trump and his clown-car of other knaves meant to distract us for a year and more from the real players dealing from the bottom of the deck.  I’m sure Stewart had grown weary of his part in the charade.  Meanwhile, Colbert, slightly shifted to the left and into the palatial Ed Sullivan Theater, remains in the game–sorta.

More great talent flushing.  Letterman wasn’t really kidding with all those jabs at “the Network” over the years.

Others will replace the discards, of course.  John Oliver, who stood in for Stewart-on-leave and now gets a half-hour per week on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, has proven something of a wild card.  He devotes a sustained 15-minutes (watch the program–this is more than anyone else) to one of our nation’s social problems, anything from the plight of chicken farmers to prison system injustices.  He doesn’t dilute the content with interviews, either; while these must have been the cost of doing business on basic cable, HBO can afford the ante.

But it appears as if Stephen Colbert has begun to tread the path of greats like Drew Carey and Craig Ferguson, whose diminution into ever-lower-stakes venues confront us all with the cost of extended play, even when The Price Is Wrong.  His expanded format requires Colbert to interview even more now, and even though his presence is edgier than Letterman’s (he and Oliver flipped each other the bird this week,) and he has the cred to draw celebrities with the gravitas of Tom Hanks now, it’s mostly going to consist of “good fun.”  At least he’s retired the worn-out Letterman staples such as the Top Ten list–and viewers may miss Dave’s flannel, dry wit and relentless repetition of a gag until the laughs came.  Stephen, by contrast, flashes like sharkskin and shows as many teeth.  It’s part of his schtick to represent himself as wealthy enough to buy the pot, but I have to wonder if the muscles at the corners of his mouth aren’t already aching, his armpits chafing.  How long can he keep up the bluff?

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