The pandemic lockdown hasn’t been all bad for Stephen Colbert.
In the issue, Colbert talks about doing his show from home for the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It felt much like the 19th century,” he says. “Daddy’s got a woodshop, and the kids are going to come in and help me cut the pine today.”
Being without a live studio audience also brought the host back to his days of bombing in front of a small audience at Second City, where he started out, which was difficult, but also more intimate.
“And that intimacy was something I didn’t realize I missed, until I got it back,” Colbert says. “It’s less intimate to be in front of 450 people who are all laughing and you’ve got a band and there’s this beautiful space and you’re standing and the camera is 25 feet away from you, not four feet away from you. I mean, literally, the camera is as close as you are right now.”
Colbert adds that the lack of an in-studio audience has also changed the kinds of jokes he’s able to do, allowing him to push boundaries a little more.
“Individuals at home or in small groups can receive this material in a much more raw state. You can get as dark as you want within your own ethical guidelines, without the concern of how you kill the vibe of a room,” he explains. “As much as I want my audience back, and I desperately do, it would be extremely difficult to talk about what’s going on in the world right now to a group of people who normally have a party atmosphere.”
Talking about how Donald Trump’s presidency has shaped his show, Colbert says, “What has occurred to me since Trump became president is that what the show is about is loss. And you feel it with such clarity, because you’re losing something you love, which is—however illusory or real, because I’m not going to judge either way—America’s moral authority in the world, that shining city on the hill.”
With Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the recent U.S. presidential election, Colbert admits, “If Joe Biden is a pair of khaki pants inside a manila envelope, that would be great. I actually don’t think you need to think about politics all the time. And one of the things I’m looking forward to is not.”
As for what “The Late Show” will be like if and when a COVID-19 vaccine is fully distributed, Colbert says, “The first thing I picture is, I have an audience,” he says. “And Jon Batiste and the Stay Human Band are there, and our offices are buzzing every day and we’re all passing each other in the halls and saying, ‘Did you see this story?’ and ‘How was your weekend?’ And we’re laughing and we’re hugging and we’re friends hanging out, which is what we are. There might be echoes of [Trump]. He might be something that never fully goes away. He’s like herpes—there might be blossomings of him where we have to take Valtrex. We have to take the Valtrex to keep the Trump blossoms down.”