After intense speculation about who would replace the irreplaceable David Letterman when he retires in 2015, CBS announced Thursday that it had tapped Stephen Colbert in a five-year deal. The 49-year-old funnyman will shed the ultra-conservative buffoon persona that made his Comedy Central The Colbert Report such a shrewd delight in the transition. Letterman himself has since released a gracious statement supporting the move: “Stephen has always been a real friend to me. I’m very excited for him, and I’m flattered that CBS chose him. I also happen to know they wanted another guy with glasses.”
Colbert is often the smartest, funniest person in the room and yet, I admit to a deflated feeling upon hearing the news. Oh for the love of, another white guy in a suit with glasses and hipster cred? I had this ridiculous, impossible fantasy of waking up to news that daffy Amy Sedaris (a favorite guest of Letterman’s) might be Dave’s successor. Imagine the runaway train conversations she’d suck anybody into who sat in that guest chair.
Or the ballsy irreverence that Amy Schumer could bring to the hosting desk. I liked the edgy looseness Ellen DeGeneres brought to the Oscars and have since suspected she’d make a more potent host of late night TV. Even someone like Joel McHale, assuming he could maintain some of his great casual disdain for the truly ridiculous, would have felt fresher.
But what really makes me nervous about Colbert, and I admit that such hand-wringing is obnoxious because he’s brilliant, and I shouldn’t second-guess so far in advance, is that I’m nervous he won’t make a great interviewer out of character. Where Letterman always shined brightest was his ability to dive deep into real conversations. His interview with Dan Rather after 9/11 was a thing of mournful beauty, as he seemed desperate for the newsman to make some sense of the senseless. Or when Amy Poehler came on early into Parks & Recreation’s run and he just fan-boyed all over her out of enthusiasm for the show. When he would get into it with Bill O’Reilly it was like watching a great barroom debate about subjects that matter.
Maybe that’s what I want – to be encouraged that late night still matters and that its intent is to be more inclusive rather than less. I’m nervous that as great as Stephen Colbert is on Comedy Central, the genre continues to shrink in on itself, weighted down by sameness.