The PJ Tatler

Pre-Recorded Trump Nearly Outperforms Live Jeb and Colbert on New Late Show

Jeb Bush Stephen Colbert

How did Jeb do last night on the premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert?

About as well as Colbert, which may be just behind Trump (who wasn’t there).

For months, Colbert has signaled his intention to retire his beloved character of the last decade, the conservative political pundit who hosted The Colbert Report. CBSnews.com reported last week:

“I mean, it’s understandable — I worked really hard to be that other guy for ten years,” Colbert told Rocca in an interview to be broadcast on CBS’ Sunday Morning September 6. “I hope they’ll find out pretty quickly that the guy they saw for ten years was my sense of humor the whole time. I’m not just a pundit — I’m a comedian.”

“It is, I guess, flattering that people thought I was an actual pundit or a newsman, eventually, over the years. But it’s really nice not to have to pretend it any more!”

Well, as of last night, Colbert is done pretending:

“For seven years, on the Republican side, the emotional needle has been nailed–bang–in one spot: Obama Bad, Maybe Not American. And then the Democrats have to argue that he’s the best, just to counter that emotional narrative that the Republicans have.”

Would Colbert concede the possibility that his own assessment is itself a product of a Democrat narrative? It doesn’t sound like it, but maybe.

Trump Commands Colbert’s Segment on Him… and He Isn’t Even There

Colbert may have given up his old part, but he was hardly working without a script. At times, he appeared still to be getting comfortable in his new role. If Jimmy Fallon is considered a presenter during his late show (as Leno and Letterman were), then Colbert should be considered a performer. No, he is not in character, but he doesn’t seem entirely at ease, either (at least, not yet).

Comfortable or not, there is little that Colbert cannot render hilarious, especially when Trump is fodder. Many of The Donald’s statements on the campaign trail are inherently, if accidentally, comical, so Colbert’s use of Trumpisms was really just him racking up gimmes–which, four minutes into this segment, he basically admitted: “You don’t own me. And I don’t need to play tape of you to have a successful TV show.”

Not bad. But comments on Rollingstone.com’s review of the segment is a reminder that Trump, not Colbert, provided the real material, with Colbert merely responding. As a result, Colbert is subject to the same force that Trump exerts over most of his fellow Republican candidates and the media.

Bush Schooled by Colbert

Trump’s personality is proving so powerful that Colbert seemed to have an easier time steering Jeb Bush–live on the set–than Trump on pre-recorded video.

The former governor from Florida gets a B+ for effort with the newly uninhibited Stephen Colbert, who found his stride as Bush searched for his. Bush brought a mixture of gravitas and levity, but at times seemed unsure when to use which, rushing through a laughter-punctured minute of Colbert “teaching” him how to reel in an audience before delivering a hard blow:

Since Bush is a presidential candidate, not a comedian, the content of his speech is far more important than his timing. That content fell along three channels:

1. Barack Obama does not have bad motives. He is just wrong on policy.

2. We have to restore a degree of civility to American political culture.

3. George W. Bush’s second term was filled with profligate spending; Jeb’s own presidency would not be, although he definitely would not end certain entitlements.

Bush’s eagerness to vouch for President Obama may conjure images of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie hugging the president following the destruction of hurricane Sandy. Unlike Christie’s, Bush’s embrace of Obama’s pure heart was probably calculated to assuage a live audience that, as Colbert pointed out, was predisposed to disagree with the Republican.

In any case, as Romney’s 2011 Top Ten reminds us, mixing Republican politicians with liberal comedians can always be worse:

Image courtesy The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.