Stephen Colbert shot to fame by playing “Stephen Colbert,” the politically partisan, right-wing buffoon whose ridiculous persona concealed some sharp political wit on his Comedy Central hit “The Colbert Report”.
When Colbert was tapped to replace David Letterman as the second host of “The Late Show”, Colbert now admits it took him a while to shed that role and just be himself, telling NPR’s “Fresh Air” that he’s only now feeling like his alter-ego is no longer necessary to create the kind of political humour viewers loved on his previous show.
“It took me a little while to realize that the character was not in danger of re-emerging,” Colbert says. “It took me almost half a year to realize … that you can have a highly opinionated, highly topical show as yourself and not essentially fall back into the basket of ‘The Colbert Report’.”
Now, however, he has “no qualms about being sharp and satirical and highly opinionated and saying whatever’s on my mind as quickly as I can.”
In the interview, Colbert also explains that his persona allowed him to get away with things he wouldn’t have otherwise. “I thought maybe I would make some big mistake with the character because he would say terrible things. And I got away with some of the terrible things he would say or do because it was all filtered through his mask, but if I didn’t maintain the mask, it would just be me being terrible,” he says.
“Toward the end of the show, I started to think that … I might actually drop the entire China set one day because I just couldn’t take playing that character anymore,” he admits. “I began to feel like I was stumbling downhill with an armful of bottles and — and that I couldn’t actually keep up the discipline ’cause it took discipline to remind myself every day to — no, be the character. Don’t be yourself. And I began to wonder, well, what would it be like to be me?”
Now that he finally can be himself, Colbert says that it’s been freeing. “So the character was a 10-year confession, perhaps indulging ego and appetite through the person of this character,” he says. “Then you go onstage as yourself and you’re responsible for everything you say and there’s a natural inclination to pull your punch because you have to be responsible for what you’re saying. You cannot hide behind the mask.”
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” airs weeknights at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT on Global; you can also watch full episodes online.