In GQ’s latest cover story, Joel Lovell gives us a nuanced, hilarious, and at times surprisingly sober look at incoming Late Show host Stephen Colbert. As the profile chips away at the Colbert a la Colbert Report persona, it also gives us a few glimpses into what we might be able to expect when Colbert returns to our TV screens in just a few weeks. For example:
There will be no ball jokes.
They're doing network now, after all, and Colbert has declared a moratorium on ball jokes. (I believe… the last one involved Greece and the Eurozone—and Paul Krugman's balls.)
There will be more surreally awkward interviews.
Remember that bewildering Eminem interview Colbert did recently on public-access TV in Michigan? There might be a lot more where that came from.
“I just want to do things that scratch an itch for me. That itch is often something that feels wrong. It's wrong because it breaks convention or is unexpected or at times uncomfortable. I like that feeling.”
Colbert himself will be excruciatingly attentive to little details.
The micro level at which he is involved in every aspect of preparations is bewildering. He moved so quickly throughout the theater, followed by a small phalanx of architects and designers and contractors. He climbed small hidden ladders in the wings to stand on exposed beams and demonstrate how he needed sneak doors to swing. He headed down below stage level, into what will be either a writers' room or a greenroom, to propose how an air-conditioning duct be rerouted.
If you didn't know he was the talent and came upon that scene with a van full of HVAC parts, you'd definitely be like, Oh, that's the guy I need to ask where to install these.
There might be a little unconscious inspiration from some surprising cultural sources.
Turns out Colbert’s wide-ranging interests include The Bachelorette:
We took a ride one day from the temporary offices over to the completely gutted Ed Sullivan Theater. Along the way, Colbert talked about watching that week's episode of The Bachelorette with his family.
“This show,” he said, meaning The Late Show, “is Chopped. Late-night shows are Chopped. Who are your guests tonight? Your guests tonight are veal tongue, coffee grounds, and gummy bears. There, make a show.… Make an appetizer that appeals to millions of people. That's what I like.”
He will still be very goofy—on stage and off.
As his bizarre promotions suggest, the new Colbert will still be far from a Seth Meyers-esque straight man. Remember his apocalyptic PSA, starring himself, a pile of snack foods, and a chicken named Queen Vindaloo? Apparently, that was even crazier behind the scenes:
The whole shoot took about twenty minutes and ended with the chicken flying out of his arms (“She's scrappy!”) and then Colbert realizing that the one thing he forgot to bring into his bunker was the K-Cup machine. He bites into one of the plastic K-Cups in despair. The coffee grounds go all over his face and mouth and up his nose. “Oh, that's really pumpkin-y.”
His guiding principle? Brief public humiliation.
“I like to do things that are publicly embarrassing,” he said, “to feel the embarrassment touch me and sink into me and then be gone. I like getting on elevators and singing too loudly in that small space. The feeling you feel is almost like a vapor. The discomfort and the wishing that it would end that comes around you. I would do things like that and just breathe it in.”