One Late Night Trope Stephen Colbert Determined He Wouldn't Do, Then 'Fell In Love With’ Anyway

Stephen Colbert biting his lip trying not to laugh while interviewing Chris Hemsworth on The Late Show
(Image credit: Paramount)

Stephen Colbert may not have seemed like the most obvious choice as The Late Show’s replacement following David Letterman’s retirement, but he’s certainly proven his worth through these first eight seasons since taking over in 2015. Despite some early struggles finding his late night footing, the Daily Show vet is now as much a traditional late night staple as anyone, though he was initially dead set against utilizing one of the format’s most time-honored elements: the opening monologue.

Having come into The Late Show directly from Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, the host was obviously skilled in such familiar late night go-tos as celebrity interviews and topic-specific rants with pre-packaged graphics. (Check out where he ranks among our favorite late night hosts.) But he was also used to 30-minute runtimes, as opposed to hour-long episodes, and apparently wasn’t all that interested in leaning on monologues to fill the airtime. Speaking with EW, he revealed:

I was determined to not do a monologue. I thought, ‘I’m not a stand-up. I’m an actor.’ And then I fell in love with the monologue. You just need to relax, have a good time, and follow your instincts in terms of the stories you’re interested in.

Colbert’s justification there is interesting, in that monologues are traditionally more of a dramatic acting exercise, going back to the days of Shakespeare and beyond. Not that they aren’t also tethered to stage comedies as well, but it’s in late night talk shows where monologues truly became forever tethered to modern comedy. Regardless, it’s a skill that does often work best with performers who are accustomed to taking the stage in such a way, such as stand-up vets like Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and more.

In contrast, somewhat, Colbert focused his education more on dramatic acting and long-form improvisation, though he flipped genres upon landing his first post-college TV gigs with the sketch series Exit 57 and The Dana Carvey Show. And it was a comedic correspondent package he put together while at Good Morning America that led him to his Daily Show gig.

Even if it wasn’t necessarily something he was raring to embrace right out of the gate, the Late Show host has long since come into his own with his nightly monologues, which are often highly satirical political jaunts, but definitely aren’t limited to that subject matter. At this point, I can’t even imagine what else he'd would be doing during that time, except for maybe taking viewers on a tour of the hidden room beneath his desk where Jon Stewart sleeps. (Not really.)

Colbert’s Late Show has gone through somewhat unique situations in recent years, from filming in an empty theater during COVID to taking a months-long hiatus during the Hollywood strikes to Christopher Nolan schooling everyone in Fast and Furious movies. But even though he might not have the stand-up chops that many of his late night counterparts have had, he was still able to survive and thrive through all the turmoil without missing a beat.

Would Stephen Colbert Ever Return To Acting?

Obviously filming a bazillion episodes of a late night talk show can make it slightly more difficult to put any effort into any other gigs, but fans have long wanted to see Stephen Colbert return to a project like Strangers with Candy, or even voice-acting work like his excellence in Harvey Birdman. The host is quick to say he won't be sabotaging his Late Show career to take on any other projects of that variety, but that he does genuinely miss that side of his career. As he put it:

It’s not like I want to drop the hammer on this woodshed that we work in here and go run off back to the footlights. But if there’s something that I used to do that I don’t do anymore, it’s acting. I miss that.

I doubt CBS is going to make any announcements in the near future that say The Late Show will only produce half the number of episodes that audiences are used to, so we may be waiting quite a while to see Colbert taking on anything other than a cameo elsewhere on the 2024 TV schedule. But if anything ever did happen that would bring his late night reign to a halt, it's good to know he'd be down to return to scripted comedy again.

Catch The Late Show with Stephen Colbert nightly on CBS at 11:35 p.m. ET, or with a Paramount+ subscription.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.