In what was evidently meant to look like an unsanctioned hijacking of the Republican National Convention stage, Stephen Colbert filmed a sketch over the weekend that is set to air during the Late Show’s live post-convention coverage this week.
In one short clip captured by a fan and posted online, Colbert’s Hunger Games-inspired character, whom he used to dispense with the various failed presidential candidates over the past several months, can be seen taking the microphone on the RNC stage before the convention officially kicks off Monday evening.
Speaking of Trump, Colbert says, “He has formed an alliance with Indiana Governor Mike Pence.” Then, after appeared to fall asleep at the podium, he adds, “Sorry, I blacked out there for a moment.”
“So it is my honor to hereby launch and begin the 2016 Republican National Hungry For Power Games!” A security guard can then be seen ushering Colbert off the stage as if he is trespassing. “I know I’m not supposed to be up here,” the host says, “but let’s be honest, neither is Donald Trump.”
Delivered in the GOP’s own backyard, it was the type of biting line we haven’t seen much of from him since The Colbert Report.
The way in which the guard quickly lets Colbert go and the assembled staffers applaud indicates that he was not in any real trouble, as it will likely appear when the sketch airs on CBS. In another clip from the floor of the convention hall, Colbert can be seen conferring with one of his writers before going on stage to deliver the bit.
Colbert’s “Hungry for Power Games” character, based on Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman from the Hunger Games film series, has delivered humorous send-offs to “fallen tributes” like Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders, giving the Late Show its most consistent recurring political sketch, though one that may have almost run its course now that only two candidates remain.
By flying to Cleveland to film the new piece ahead of his week of live shows from New York, Colbert is demonstrating just how important these two convention weeks are for his ratings, which have been mostly pacing ahead of Jimmy Kimmel Live but remain far behind The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Two weeks of non-stop political news can only help give Colbert a bump.
The rest of the political late-night television field is taking just as much advantage of the conventions. Trevor Noah and his team will take The Daily Show on the road to Cleveland this week and Philadelphia the following week. Seth Meyers will air his Late Night show live at 12:35 a.m. each night after the speeches are made. And both Samantha Bee and Bill Maher are adding additional episodes to their weekly schedules to wring more material out of the events.
But it is Colbert who just might have the most to gain. During an interview with CBS This Morning last week, Colbert revealed that his old friend Jon Stewart will be appearing on the Late Show multiple times throughout the conventions, beginning on Monday night.
The host and CBS have been quiet about what role Stewart will play, but Colbert hinted that viewers could also see a return of his beloved right-wing “Stephen Colbert” character from The Colbert Report. Back in December, Stewart used the Late Show to promote a 9/11 first responders bill — while also wearing a Donald Trump costume to ensure he got the attention he needed. Thursday night, Colbert has possible Democratic vice presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren giving her live reaction to Donald Trump’s nomination acceptance speech.
After rising in the ranks to become the definitive voice of political comedy on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert lost much of his edge when left his Bill O’Reilly-inspired character behind and embraced his true self. It was an attempt to reach a larger audience that has resulted in an objectively less funny show and ultimately left a gaping hole in the political satire arena that has been only partially filled by figures like John Oliver and Larry Wilmore, along with Noah, Bee, Meyers and the rest.
The political circus that is about to capture the nation’s attention are Colbert’s chance to prove he still has what it takes. Let’s hope he seizes it.