[This is a review of The Colbert Report series finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
The final episode of The Colbert Report began with a brief moment between Daily Show host Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and it was Stewart who both stood beside Colbert when he began the star-studded musical portion of this lengthy farewell and said the final good-bye to Colbert before a charming and intimate “moment of zen” which featured the two friends goofing off together.
These men have been professionally tied to each other for 15 years ever since Stewart replaced Craig Kilborn as the host of The Daily Show, so it made all the sense in the world to pay respect to that link and lean on it in the way that Colbert did on his way out the door. But while there is much that has linked them, there is much that sets them apart. For one thing, Colbert’s alter-ego has always limited his ability to feel his outrage as fully as Stewart does. In a way, it’s almost as if Colbert was the equivalent of an escape artist who tied both hands behind his back. And yet amazingly, he always made it out and always found a way to convey his true feelings from underneath the thin cloak of satire. Which was the second most impressive part of his shtick.
That character won’t join Colbert on CBS. The cuffs will be off, but there won’t likely be as many tough situations to navigate through. In some ways, Colbert’s tamped down outrage may be the one that’s retiring, but I hope not. I hope he remains engaged and opinionated. And I hope he still finds a way to deal with the most horrifying and horrible parts of life while finding innovative ways to make the Colbert Nation smile and have fun.
For the most part, Colbert’s last half hour was all about the end with only one real topical story that mainly served as a set-up to the news about the size of the donation that the sale of Colbert’s desk would bring to charity (approximately $313,000).
For those of us who wanted to see Colbert weigh in on Cuba and the latest developments with Sony and The Interview, we were out of luck. Which is fine, because unfortunately, we’re all going to have to get used to sifting through the day’s events without Colbert’s truthiness.
Unsurprisingly, there was a lengthy version of “The Word” segment, which allowed Colbert to jokingly frame the debate about his legacy (while calling out some of the show’s most important achievements) before giving all credit to his fans for all that they had been able to do together while allowing him to get paid for those achievements.
Colbert’s only scheduled guest was Grimmy (the Grim Reaper), though hopes for some kind of elongated comedy bit where Stephen fought for his life were cut short near-instantly when Colbert claimed immortality for himself after shooting the Grim Reaper in the neck.
What followed was, for lack of a more complimentary sounding pile of words, a cornucopia of fan service and look-at-me spectacle. But it was magical and apt for what Colbert’s character was.
Seemingly every celebrity that has ever been on The Colbert Report (but not actually) joined Stephen, Jon and Randy Newman to sing “We’ll Meet Again”. There was next to no comedic value to this (though the appearances by Tek Jansen and Esteban Colberto made me smile) — it was just a nice thing that happened and a love fest that was well deserved. It was also strangely par for the course when it comes to late night farewells when you think back to Conan O’Brien’s rocking exit from The Tonight Show and Jimmy Fallon’s sing-along with The Muppets before he left Late Night to takeover The Tonight Show.
Colbert could have ended there on a very nice note, but instead he pressed on and veered into some wonderfully weird territory as Colbert vacated the portrait of himself that hung over the mantle and took to the roof (with his Captain America shield), where he encountered Santa Claus, Alex Trebek, and an e-cig smoking Abraham Lincoln with a unicorn horn under his hat. That sounds like a fever dream, but it is in fact something that occurred on television last night.
Again, though it seemed like the show might end with Colbert’s character flying off toward the moon light to watch over us all, he came back once more. It was as if Colbert couldn’t or didn’t want to choose a way to say goodbye, so he just kept stacking them on top of each other, but each way wound up providing its own charm and purpose.
The last goodbye got emotional because Colbert clearly knew that there was nowhere else to go but away. Addressing the audience, he did his near-tearful goodbyes and shared his gratitude. The phrase, “That was fun” was uttered as he tried to impossibly sum up 9 years on The Colbert Report and 17 overall years with the character. I also got a little misty and you might have too.
Stephen Colbert is, of course, going on to another job and he’s going to be in our living rooms again soon. But it won’t be the same. And though his show probably pissed you off if your political leanings are more to the right than the left, I’d like to think that everyone is able to appreciate that Colbert was — even when he might have been internally upset about the goings on in the world — always looking for the angle that made people laugh first and foremost.
I don’t want to diminish Colbert’s role as a satirist and The Colbert Report‘s ability to inform and participate in the debate, but in the end, it all comes back to the partnership with Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. If these two shows — The Daily Show and The Colbert Report — are the shows that put you to bed every night, you’re gonna miss The Colbert Report and you’re gonna feel it in the morning when you’ve got a little less bounce in your step.
Because while Jon Stewart can tell it to us almost completely straight, ruffle our feathers and then amazingly earn a smirk, Colbert could take that raw and powerful news, pinpoint its most ridiculous properties, and minimize our fear by maximizing our ability to laugh at the world and his well constructed and impeccably executed clown routine.
Stewart and Colbert were an incomparable and mutually beneficial pair, and things just won’t be the same for either one now that they’re apart.
The Colbert Report ran on Comedy Central for 9 years. Stephen Colbert will take over for David Letterman as the host of The Late Show in the Spring of 2015.