A studio filled with an incongruous group of celebrity guests — Mayor Bill de Blasio, Big Bird, Ambassador Samantha Power, Yo-Yo Ma, Gen. Ray Odierno, Cyndi Lauper — singing “We’ll Meet Again” was a little weird, but so were the commercials that bracketed the occasion: ads for scotch, beer and dating services called Asiandate.com and Anastasiadate.com.
The final episode of “The Colbert Report” on Thursday was a sad turning point, maybe, but it was also a happy reminder of how much of an anomaly that late-night comedy series really was: like “The Daily Show,” it became a vanity destination for the establishment in-crowd on Comedy Central, a cable channel that caters to the young and seemingly lonely (and thirsty).
For nine years, Stephen Colbert brilliantly kept up an unlikely, complicated and delightful imposture. He delivered wicked political satire by pretending to be a right-wing, monomaniacal cable talk show host. It was a double cross. Mr. Colbert was also a middle-aged comedian who tapped into a millennial sensibility.
So, of course, with characteristic brio and mock pomposity, Mr. Colbert stepped down as he prepares to replace David Letterman, who will leave the “Late Show” on CBS in 2015. (“The Colbert Report” spot will be taken by “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore,” a onetime “Daily Show” correspondent.) Since the succession at CBS was announced, there has been much hand-wringing, not so much over Mr. Letterman’s retirement as for the loss of Mr. Colbert’s mock persona. People wonder how this comedian will manage once he drops his Comedy Central mask and has to be himself on the “Late Show.”
Actually, he won’t have to be his real self onstage any more than Mr. Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel or Seth Meyers has to. Talk shows are acting jobs, except that the hosts play themselves rather than fictional characters. They maintain public personas that often have very little to do with the people they are privately.
Mr. Letterman, like his hero, Johnny Carson, is a notorious grump and loner once the studio lights go dark. Offstage, Jay Leno loves cars more than people. Rosie O’Donnell, who crosses swords and curse words with Whoopi Goldberg on “The View,” was once called the Queen of Nice on the cover of Newsweek. Viewers are not meeting the real Ellen DeGeneres when they watch her gambol with guests any more than they are seeing the real Meryl Streep when she plays Julia Child.
Mr. Colbert, who so brilliantly played a caricature of a Fox News talk show host, spent his last week showing that he wouldn’t have any trouble dialing it back to become a charming, witty comedian with his own network talk show.
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SOURCE: The New York Times