Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Colbert or Wilmore?

For months, I've been wondering what I would do when confronted with the choice of Stephen Colbert or Larry Wilmore.

After about fifteen minutes of Colbert's first Late Show, it's not looking good for Wilmore.

The Nightly Show has improved a lot since I voiced my disappointment with its early episodes: the flow is better and the jokes land with more force.

But fifteen minutes into tonight's Colbert — and especially after his second segment, devoted entirely to Trump and Oreos — I'm welcoming back a sorely-missed friend.

The lazy description of The Colbert Report is that it revolved around a parody of a conservative pundit. That's how it started, absolutely, but it soon outgrew the character. It became a showcase for all the facets of a ridiculously talented man who has a stunning gift for improvisation.

Tonight, the rest of the world met that man.

One very big unknown remains whether CBS will force Colbert to devote a lot of time to the fluffy Hollywood promotional-tour interviews that have filled late-night talk shows since the beginning. I hope not. Nothing would get stale faster than competing with Fallon and Kimmel for the most vacuous ten minutes with [insert actor's name]. One of the minor glories of The Colbert Report was the wide range of guests: authors, politicians, activists, scientists, artists, sports figures. No doubt this was partly due to Jon Stewart, who brought a taste for interesting guests to The Daily Show and who was a co-executive producer of the Report. (He's listed as an executive producer on The Late Show, too, which is a delightful surprise.)

(In what's perhaps a troubling sign for the future, Colbert has said he looked forward most to doing interviews unshackled from his Report character. Neither of tonight's interviews turned out well, and as entertaining as many of them were on the Report, they were often the least interesting part of that show.)

I'll still check out The Nightly Show when I remember. It hasn't become an indispensable accompaniment to The Daily Show, and whether I even stay with the latter depends on what Trevor Noah does with it. Now that it seems Colbert will be allowed to fulfill his potential, it's going to be that much harder to keep my Comedy Central 11-midnight habit.

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