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Can Stephen Colbert Uphold David Letterman’s Legacy—and Tone?

by Ethan Tussey

by Kelli Marshall for IN MEDIA RES

Only two days after David Letterman’s retirement on May 20, 2015, the host’s set was removed, and his master tapes were headed to storage. Shortly thereafter, the famous blue-and-yellow Late Show with David Letterman marquee was ripped off, leaving a weird, gaping hole above Broadway’s Ed Sullivan Theatre. For fans of Letterman (and surely the hundreds of employees who worked there), the demolition seemed hasty. But with Stephen Colbert’s impending arrival as the new late-night host, I suppose it was also unavoidable.

For their show, Colbert and company obviously won’t be salvaging much from the Ed Sullivan Theatre—even the audience chairs were destroyed (and then, ugh, allegedly put on eBay). But will the new host preserve any of Letterman’s tone: the subversive wit, cynical charm, absurdist play? Based on what Colbert has produced online thus far—to an extent, I think—yes, he will.

Two weeks after Letterman’s final show, Colbert released his first Late Show video along with a Twitter feed, Facebook page, YouTube channel, podcast, and an iOS application called Colbr. Over the summer, prospective Late Show viewers have watched Colbert shave his “Colbeard,” the clippings (disgustingly) falling atop a half-eaten hotdog, and they've seen him host a public access show in rural Michigan, in which he awkwardly interviews rapper Eminem. He’s also begun podcast episodes in a “man-sized cabinet,” dined with gorilla-hand sandwiches, and ridiculed physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson for his unemotional response about the planet Pluto.

Most of these antics aren’t too far removed from Letterman’s absurdist acts like the suits of velcro and magnets, his canned ham obsession, and delight in throwing stuff off roofs. The same goes for sketches like Stupid Human Tricks, How Many Spider-Mans Can You Fit in a Jamba Juice?, Know Your Cuts of Meat, Trump or Monkey?, and Will It Float?

Of course, Colbert cannot replace Letterman, and his demeanor differs from Dave’s (it’s kinder and less deriding). But based on what the new Late Show host has released thus far, it does seem as though some of Letterman’s tone will remain in the theatre—even if the audience chairs do not.

Can Stephen Colbert Uphold David Letterman’s Legacy—and Tone?

by Ethan Tussey

by Kelli Marshall for IN MEDIA RES

Only two days after David Letterman’s retirement on May 20, 2015, the host’s set was removed, and his master tapes were headed to storage. Shortly thereafter, the famous blue-and-yellow Late Show with David Letterman marquee was ripped off, leaving a weird, gaping hole above Broadway’s Ed Sullivan Theatre. For fans of Letterman (and surely the hundreds of employees who worked there), the demolition seemed hasty. But with Stephen Colbert’s impending arrival as the new late-night host, I suppose it was also unavoidable.

For their show, Colbert and company obviously won’t be salvaging much from the Ed Sullivan Theatre—even the audience chairs were destroyed (and then, ugh, allegedly put on eBay). But will the new host preserve any of Letterman’s tone: the subversive wit, cynical charm, absurdist play? Based on what Colbert has produced online thus far—to an extent, I think—yes, he will.

Two weeks after Letterman’s final show, Colbert released his first Late Show video along with a Twitter feed, Facebook page, YouTube channel, podcast, and an iOS application called Colbr. Over the summer, prospective Late Show viewers have watched Colbert shave his “Colbeard,” the clippings (disgustingly) falling atop a half-eaten hotdog, and they've seen him host a public access show in rural Michigan, in which he awkwardly interviews rapper Eminem. He’s also begun podcast episodes in a “man-sized cabinet,” dined with gorilla-hand sandwiches, and ridiculed physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson for his unemotional response about the planet Pluto.

Most of these antics aren’t too far removed from Letterman’s absurdist acts like the suits of velcro and magnets, his canned ham obsession, and delight in throwing stuff off roofs. The same goes for sketches like Stupid Human Tricks, How Many Spider-Mans Can You Fit in a Jamba Juice?, Know Your Cuts of Meat, Trump or Monkey?, and Will It Float?

Of course, Colbert cannot replace Letterman, and his demeanor differs from Dave’s (it’s kinder and less deriding). But based on what the new Late Show host has released thus far, it does seem as though some of Letterman’s tone will remain in the theatre—even if the audience chairs do not.

Colbert and Facial Hair

A promo for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (2015)
Creator: Stephen Colbert
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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