Stephen Colbert returned to his television comedy roots Monday night, resurrecting his eponymous know-nothing pundit character and even mixing it up with a gray-bearded, skinnier-than-we-recall Jon Stewart in the first of his week of live broadcasts lampooning Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention.
Assuming the persona of “Stephen Colbert,” the bloviating Bill O’Reilly-esque star of The Colbert Report that he discarded 18 months ago when he departed Comedy Central for CBS, he explored the meaning of “Trumpiness.”
“Hello, nation! Did you miss me? I know I did,” he began. “Nation, right now, Americans are angry, confused and lashing out randomly—and that’s just the Republican nominee.”
And in a videotaped sketch concerning his attempt to explain how Trump got the nomination, Colbert went on a trek to find Stewart, his former boss and mentor at The Daily Show, and discovered him living in a remote cabin in the woods and wearing a ratty bathrobe while making a batch of canned jerky.
The premise was that Stewart, once the brilliant political satirist, is now out of touch and uninformed, believing that Jeb Bush is the GOP standard-bearer—a circumstance that allows him to perform a full-frontal spit-take in Colbert’s face (and for Colbert to return the favor later on) when each informs the other that the nominee is the egomaniacal reality show mogul and serial bankruptcy-filer.
“The guy whose eyes look like tiny versions of his mouth?” Stewart asks.
“Yes. The guy who looks like an angry creamsicle,” Colbert answers.
“The guy who wrote, and I quote, ‘Oftentimes, when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world, I would say to myself, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?’ That guy?”
“Yes. The same guy who said, and I quote, ‘I have black guys counting my money. I hate it. The only guys I want counting my money are short guys who wear yarmulkes all day…”
“By the way, we wear them all night, too.”
In another piece of prepared videotaped comedy—which opened the show—Colbert, sporting a sequined American-flag vest, showed off his song-and-dance-man chops in an elaborate production number featuring a platoon of dancing girls while he belted out a Republican-tweaking version of “Christmas in July” that includes such lyrics as:
“This week, you and me / We will witness history / As the RNC / Crowns their orange manatee. / We’ll see wacky hats, crazy ties, / worn by thousands of white guys / An entire airplane hangar filled with Donald Trump’s ex-wives / We’ll see Newt, Ron, and Rand / Maybe members of the Klan / But no Muslims or Latinos / Because I think they’ve all been banned.”
This was clever and fun—Colbert at his subversive best, though perhaps not the sort of entertainment designed to appeal to the “Real America” in the middle of the country, to say nothing of the delegates in Cleveland, where, in another taped bit, Colbert pranced around the convention floor in the Quicken Loans Arena in character as the blue-turbaned, stuffed weasel-cradling emcee of his recurring “Hungry for Power Games” sketch.
At one point, Colbert ascended to the podium to make a nutty speech before being whisked offstage by what appeared to be an actor playing a Secret Service agent.
At another point he hectored a Telemundo correspondent about to do a live shot, asking how she got past Trump’s wall; and at still another, he yelled out to the host of Meet the Press, in the midst of broadcasting from the NBC News sky booth, “Chuck Todd! Have Matt Lauer washed and brought to my tent! My weasel wants to make love to your goatee!” (Todd turned around and peered through the glass at the crazy person below, managing a WTF smile.)
This was adroit silliness, it should be obvious, not designed to tickle the fancy of many registered Republicans outside of Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney.
Colbert’s foray in Cleveland was the funniest, at least for this viewer, but for reasons that no doubt served logistical convenience rather than knee-slapping hilarity, he’s doing his live show from the Ed Sullivan Theater, decorated with patriotic bunting and other convention detritus. All in all, Colbert hosted a very satisfying and clever diversion that makes me want to see what he comes up with the rest of the week—although I wish he and his producers didn’t feel obligated to accommodate a celebrity interview that had nothing to do with the issues at hand: Zoe Saldana hawking the latest Star Trek sequel—a showstopper, to be sure, but not in a good way.