NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stephen Colbert brought a mix of Hollywood glamour, presidential politics and a patriotic flourish to his debut hosting the CBS Late Show on Tuesday (Sept 8), opening with the national anthem and trading banter with Oscar-winner George Clooney and Republican White House contender Jeb Bush.
Nine months after his final sign-off from The Colbert Report on cable television's Comedy Central channel, Colbert launched his first major network broadcast as the late-night heir to David Letterman, taking a moment to pay a heart-felt tribute to his predecessor.
As he promised for the occasion, Colbert shed the well-worn persona of the pompous, ultra-patriotic political commentator that he played for nearly a decade on The Colbert Report and as a regular before that on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.
Instead, CBS viewers and his live audience inside the newly remodelled Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan, where the show is taped, were treated to an extended glimpse of the "real", unfiltered Colbert.
Colbert jokingly explained the difference between his alter ego and himself during an interview with Bush, when the former Florida governor made mention of the numerous images of Colbert gracing the stage. "I used to play a narcissistic conservative pundit," the 51-year-old performer told Bush, whose father and elder brother both served as president. "Now, I'm just a narcissist."
Pressed by Colbert to explain his "Jeb!" campaign logo, Bush said he had used it before in his Florida gubernatorial runs. "It connotes excitement," said Bush, who has been ridiculed by rival presidential hopeful Donald Trump as a "low-energy" candidate.
In an earlier interview with Clooney, his very first guest, Colbert presented the actor-director with a belated wedding gift for his marriage last year to human rights lawyer Amal Ramzi. It was a Tiffany paperweight inscribed with the phrase, "I don't know you".
Colbert launched his first episode of the hour-long show with a pre-taped string of video clips of himself singing The Star Spangled Banner in various locations, including a bowling alley, a machinist shop, the National Mall in Washington and a baseball field. The montage ended with Stewart, barely recognisable in a grizzly beard, making a cameo appearance by lifting off an umpire's mask to shout, "Play ball!"
From there, the camera cut to Colbert bounding on stage to a sustained standing ovation from the studio audience and chants of "Stephen, Stephen, Stephen" - a ritual familiar from his days on The Colbert Report. Even before the Bush interview, Colbert showed his flair for mining laughs from politics.
After his opening standup monologue, Colbert segued into a lengthy routine at his desk in which he simultaneously binged on a bag of Oreo cookies and video clips of Trump, who has vowed never to eat Oreos again after snack-maker Nabisco Inc said it was opening a new plant in Mexico.
The broadcast ended with Colbert singing again, this time joining the new Jon Batiste-led Late Show house band, Stay Human, soul vocalist Mavis Staples and others in a performance of the 1968 hit by Sly And The Family Stone, Everyday People.