Stephen Colbert has, nearly every weeknight for the past 15 months, led the nation’s most-watched late-night show without many of the trappings viewers have come to expect. He’s had no live audience to respond to his jokes and monologues. His bandleader, Jon Batiste, made musical contributions from a remote location. And his interviews with newsmakers and celebrities, conducted by video-sharing technology, have taken on a hushed, almost intimate quality.
“There were no distractions. There was no energy in the room but my own,” Colbert told Variety of the scaled-back program that has aired during the pandemic. “Part of my journey on ‘The Late Show’ was going from my old character [from Comedy Central’s ‘Colbert Report’] to being myself. I’ve never had to be myself more than over the last 15 months.”
On Monday evening, the host returned to a more traditional environment, doing the program in front of a full live audience at Manhattan’s Ed Sullivan Theater for the first time since March 16, 2020.
CBS called the pandemic-era program with its quieter execution “A Late Show.” Now, as the nation emerges from an isolation imposed by the pandemic and amid a decidedly different news cycle, Colbert must ensure audiences still think of its more familiar version, “The Late Show,” as the genuine article.