NEW YORK • During the taping of his first show as host of The Late Show on CBS while interviewing Republican White House contender Jeb Bush, comedian Stephen Colbert explained how he, the real Colbert, was different from the character he had played for nearly 10 years on The Colbert Report.
"I used to play a narcissistic conservative pundit," he told Bush and his studio audience at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Tuesday night. "Now I'm just a narcissist."
That persona may be retired, but in this first episode of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, the arch and up-to-the-moment sense of humour that Colbert cultivated on his Comedy Central political satire series was still very much in evidence when he made his debut as host of a network late-night talk show.
The show began with a mostly sincere pre-taped segment in which Colbert and other musicians performed The Star-Spangled Banner in various locations around New York and the United States (including a bowling alley and the Fort Worth Stockyards in Texas).
After taking the stage to enthusiastic applause, Colbert opened with a stand-up monologue in which he observed: "If I knew you were going to do that, I'd have come out months ago."
After an opening credits sequence, he sat behind his desk and continued to perform a set of topical jokes, many of which were about Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.
Noting that Trump has been favourably received by white supremacists, Colbert said this was "amazing" because "Trump's not even white - he's more Oompa-Loompa American".
While interviewing Bush, the former governor of Florida (and brother of former president George W. Bush, the subject of a merciless roast that Colbert performed at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association dinner), Colbert asked him straightforward policy questions about education and gun control.
But there were also many humorous flourishes.
Colbert teasingly asked Bush about his use of an exclamation point in his campaign poster ("It connotes excitement," Bush explained) and referred to remarks by his mother, Barbara, in which she said the country has "had enough Bushes" in the White House ("She was just joking," Bush said).
Colbert also offered him new talking points to use in presidential debates that the host said sounded "Trumpier". Among these upgraded lines that he had Bush recite were "I will build a wall between the United States and Iran".
Earlier in the programme, Colbert conducted an interview with actor George Clooney and gave him a belated wedding gift to congratulate him on his marriage to human-rights lawyer Amal last year.
Clooney opened a box from Tiffany & Co. to find a paperweight with the inscription, "I don't know you".
The taping occasionally had to be halted so segments could be re-recorded to correct for technical glitches.
Even the show's concluding musical number, an all-star performance of Everyday People featuring soul singer Mavis Staples and Colbert's bandleader, Jon Batiste, had to be recorded twice.
Colbert seemed to take it all in stride. Before the unexpected encore, he said with deep sarcasm, "It's not like anybody put any effort into it the first time."
NEW YORK TIMES