The Stephen Colbert We Know & Love Is Gone Forever — Or Is He?
On Wednesday night, lovers of political satire heard the phrase they dreaded perhaps more than any other: "The character of Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, will never be seen again." According to Colbert, now host of CBS' The Late Show, after his patriotic character was resurrected for a special RNC convention sketch last week, corporate lawyers put up a fight over intellectual property and ensured that Stephen Colbert, the character, was retired for good. As we all suspected, however, our champion didn't take the blow sitting down.
For those who may not know, the Stephen Colbert that hosted The Colbert Report for almost 10 years on Comedy Central is a very different man than the one who's been delivering the most joyful live commentary after the Democratic convention on The Late Show for the past week — in fact, he's the exact opposite. Fans from millennials to academics were so loathe to predict the character was dead in 2014, when Colbert left for Comedy Central for CBS, because The Colbert Report represented an entirely unique voice in the late night landscape.
According to Footnote's interview with Sophia McClennen, Penn State professor and author on multiple books on the subject, "Colbert was unique because of his character. ... Not only was he using irony and not saying exactly what he thought, he was actually embodying the thing he was ridiculing." Colbert distinguished himself even further by directly encouraging his viewers to become involved in politics, starting his own Super PAC, inspiring more to form, and actually running for president (more than once).
When Colbert of The Colbert Report made a glorious return to late night last week to execute a fan's fantasy sketch with Jon Stewart, it appeared our beloved Colbert character had actually "pulled a Jesus," as one might say. The sublimely satisfying sketch, highlighting the lunacy of Donald Trump's bid for the presidency, led into The Colbert Report's jagged-browed host returning to his desk for a final segment of a fan favorite bit, "The Word." Unfortunately, it was not enjoyed by all.
As Colbert explained from behind his desk this Wednesday, directly following last week's show, "CBS's top lawyer was contacted by the top lawyer from another company to say that the character Stephen Colbert is their intellectual property." He joked, "I cannot reasonably argue I own my face or name!"
Colbert went on to do what he had to for the cameras by announcing the resignation of his Colbert Report alter ego, but he saved us all from heartbreak with a classic move — welcoming "Stephen Colbert's identical twin cousin, Stephen Colbert" for a snarky bit, who is a "totally different guy," than Comedy Central's character. He then stuck it to lawyers further by launching into his familiar bit "The Werd" (not "The Word").
Although Colbert the identical twin cousin proposed to join the Late Night team permanently, and claimed that "wild horses, ridden by corporate lawyers, could not keep me away," the real real Colbert has recently suggested the opposite. He suggested to The Hollywood Reporter recently that he didn't want his old character to overstay its welcome, saying, "Hopefully [the audience] won't be like, 'Huh? That's a different show. Wasn't that 18 months ago? Why haven't you moved on?'"
I don't want to speak for all fans here, but if the brazen, flag waving, "Megamerican" version of Colbert wants to stick around a while longer, I'm chill with it.