Late Night Television

Published on April 10th, 2014 | by Sharilyn Johnson


3 Ways Stephen Colbert Could End The Colbert Report

This post is outdated! If you’re looking for an update on how Colbert is gearing up to end his show, you probably want to check out this post instead.

Original post:

Stephen Colbert is leaving the Colbert Report – and the conservative pundit character he created – behind him to take over David Letterman’s spot at CBS in 2015.

The deal reportedly happened quickly, and the end of the Report is happening quickly too: the show will go dark for the final time in December of this year.

But how will it end? Colbert will want to close the book on his creation with the same level of creativity he’s exhibited since its 2005 premiere. An earnest, maudlin, teary send-off simply won’t do. Instead…

Manufacture A scandal

One challenge ahead of Colbert is how to educate viewers (current and future) of the clear division between the “Stephen Colbert” character and the Colbert we’ll see on CBS. Most people understand there is a difference, but are vague on what that is.

Creating a storyline (or a “game” in improv/Report terms) that stays open-ended when the Report is done, and causes or explains “Stephen’s” removal from the air, is a perfect way to create that division.

Colbert revealed on an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air that if he’d been successful in getting on the 2008 Republican primary ballot in the South Carolina, he already had a plan for how to drop out of the race.

“I wanted to like actually go down to South Carolina and like stumble around Columbia, the capital, like pantless with a bottle of Jack Daniels and try to get arrested,” he said.

A similarly fictional scandal for the fictional character, leading to his fictional absense from Comedy Central, would provide clarity and wipe the slate clean for the non-fictional Colbert.

Disown the “new” Colbert in advance

The free market has spoken, as his character would say: CBS is going to pay him more money, therefore anything they want him to do is the right decision. So let’s turn this on its head: have his Report character openly embrace this move, but get increasingly confused by the “requests” CBS is making for his upcoming show.

What would happen if Colbert relayed to his Report audience how much CBS wants him to “change his style” and “be a nicer guy”? How it’s as if they want him to act like a whole other person? Almost a… character?

He’s toyed with us this way in tiny morsels. A great example: the plastic-framed glasses he now wears only in real life made an appearance in a recent Report segment, in which his character mocked liberals. When he removed them, he cleverly remarked, “of course, I was just doing that in character”.

Why not execute this mind-melding flip-flop on a bigger scale? Tell the Colbert Nation that despite the “other guy” CBS is going to force him to be going forward, the Stephen Colbert his Report audiences know and love will always be underneath.

Ben Folds will play him out

This will likely happen no matter what. Why? Colbert himself says he wants it to.

In a live Q&A fundraiser for the Montclair Film Festival in 2011, Colbert told interviewer Jonathan Alter:

“If I was going to have a last show, and I was going to have a last musical guest – and I hope I never do – but I think I would want to have Ben Folds on and do this song with him.”

Colbert proceeded to do an a capella rendition of Best Imitation Of Myself, from Ben Folds Five’s 1995 self-titled album.

I feel like a quote out of context
Withholding the rest
So I can be free what you want to see
I got the gesture and sound
Got the timing down
It’s uncanny, yeah, you think it was me
Do you think I should take a class
To lose my southern accent
Did I make me up, or make the face till it stuck
I do the best imitation of myself

The problem with you speech
You gave me was fine
I liked the theories about my little stage
And I swore I was listening
But I started drifting
Around the part about me acting my age
Now if it’s all the same
I’ve people to entertain
I juggle one handed
Do some magic tricks and
The best imitation of myself

He later reiterated his love for the song, and explained how it related to his character, in another segment for Fresh Air.

Plot twist: this collaboration may have already happened. After Ben Folds Five appeared on the Colbert Report, a press image was released – shown on that Fresh Air page – showing Stephen presumably singing with the group (he used his lav mic to introduce them, not the one in the photo). It’s common for musical guests to do an extra song that isn’t aired, and logic dictates this is the song they would’ve done together. Is the footage being held onto for this occasion, or will we see Mr. Folds in-studio in December?

Of course, Colbert likely has a game plan in his back pocket that will make even the most educated guesses look foolish in retrospect. But options like these are the very least we should expect from him at the end of 2014.

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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

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  • The Colbert Report A-Z

    Third Beat editor Sharilyn Johnson presents the ultimate fan guide to The Colbert Report, available from all major booksellers including