CBS Late Show host Stephen Colbert recently was interviewed by New York Times’ culture writer Sopan Deb for the paper’s “TimesTalks” before a live audience August 13. In the hour long interview posted on YouTube, Deb questions the process of making an episode of The Late Show, what Colbert felt on election night in 2016, and how he sees his influence is during the Trump Administration and in the future. The comedian turned critic revealed his horror at learning that Trump had won, and regret at his star-laden show he had to scrap because Clinton lost.
After talking about the ins and outs of making a television show, Deb turned to election night. “So obviously, I mean, the turning point for your show seems like came on election night in 2016,” Deb began. “Why did the audience start gravitating towards you after that?” the Times reporter said, claiming that Colbert’s ratings went up after that live show.
Colbert claimed that the process of doing his show live leading up to election night prepared him for performing that night, but nothing could prepare him for the actual election results.
“We had four shows we knew that were possible: Mrs. Clinton wins and we know it, Looks like she’s going to win but we’re not sure, Donald Trump could win but we won’t know until the next day, and he’s definitely won. We had these [first] three, we had material for these three,” the late night host admitted. He explained that the show’s writers didn’t even write a script for the possibility of Trump winning, because it was such a horrific scenario to imagine, they couldn’t mentally grasp it.
“I’m not saying it’s impossible, if that happens it’s like I’m hosting a show in a slaughterhouse,” he gushed.
“Like emotionally, people are going to be so raw, that I don’t know what joke--its so disastrous, in my opinion, that I’m not sure I could dance on the edge of that volcano, anyway. Let’s just let the lava flow over us if that happens and we’ll improvise, we’ll see what happens,” Colbert revealed. He added that the CBS production team “didn’t want” to write a script where Trump won the election anyway, so they were happy to imagine it wasn’t going to.
“They didn’t want to write it….There was just no scenario in our head where that led to chuckles,” he added.
The talk show host revealed that since that live broadcast was on Showtime, (owned by CBS), they could do virtually anything they wanted. So they had a bunch of naked men with Hillary’s slogan, “I’m with her,” written on their behinds.
Colbert was so proud of that show that never happened, he giddily explained that he wished he could’ve shown his liberal audience. “I wish you could’ve seen the show we had planned for you guys. We should do it, someday we should do all that material, maybe after he’s out of office,” Colbert gushed. “We had big female stars [lined up] because it was a night for women and empowerment,” he raved.
But that didn’t happen, of course. “It was bad man….we killed all the comedy,” he explained, when they found out the election results mid-show, and started drinking alcohol.
A sympathetic Deb asked if there was a part of him that wanted to scrap the show because he was “too upset” to go on television. Colbert explained that he felt like it was his duty to continue with the show, characterizing it as a very “real” and “raw” experience that was the catalyst of how his show took on its stridently anti-Trump tone.