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Why There Will Never Be Another Late Night Show As Good As ‘The Colbert Report’

It’s a tough day for comedy fans. Tonight, The Colbert Report will come to an end. The show, which started off as a high-concept spin-off of The Daily Show, evolved into the best show in late night history*. I realize those are bold words, but they are true words. Over ten seasons, The Colbert Report transcended both the news parody and late night talk show formats to become something special. And it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see anything like it again.

Why is The Colbert Report so special? Most late night shows rely on either current events or big guest star names to draw in an audience. We love to watch Jimmy Fallon play with major movie stars and pop divas, but the novelty of all his sketches is usually who he’s getting to get in on the joke. Sure, Fallon can lip synch a song, but we all go crazy when Emma Stone gets in on the bit.

People tune into news satire shows like The Daily Show because they want an irreverent take on current events. Jon Stewart and his merry band of correspondents are an added bonus, but they are just the people who connect the people to the written satire. If you took Jon Stewart out of The Daily Show, it would still survive as a show. Case in point: Jon Stewart left The Daily Show last summer and John Oliver took the reins. Guess what? The show was still fine.

However, if you’re watching The Colbert Report, you’re watching for Stephen Colbert’s take on the world. You’re there for “truthiness, ” but you’re also there for a specifically slanted version of truth. As the character “Stephen Colbert,” Colbert has a specific, almost cartoonish voice that has remained unwavering in its viewpoint over ten seasons. And it’s that character and his voice that defines the show.  Without both the Colbert character and the comedian Colbert, there is no show.

The Colbert Report is also able to go deeper than other late night shows. It’s able to skewer how headlines are presented on both cable news and in late night. When he’s addressing the audience, he’s not only lampooning the pundits who always present a predictably biased, character-driven version of the news, but the construct of The Colbert Report as a show satirizes how other late night shows operate. At its very core, it’s a spin-off of The Daily Show. Its existence is ludicrous and its longevity is a satire in and of itself.

The Colbert Report was also ahead of its time. The hip British science fiction/social satire show Black Mirror presents stories about what could happen to our lives if we let our worse natures (and technology) get the better of us. In one episode, a cartoon bear voiced by a comedian runs for public office and things spiral out of control. The problem with that episode? Stephen Colbert did run for public office as “Stephen Colbert,” and unlike the character in Black Mirror, Colbert’s run packed a social commentary punch. He was there to expose the corruption inherent in most United States elections. Real-life Stephen Colbert is better than our finest science fiction.

Oh, and have I mentioned that The Colbert Report is just really damn good? Every night, Colbert sells the bejesus out of immaculately crafted jokes that are at once both silly and smart. His writing staff walks a razor thin tightrope of irony and they somehow have rarely, if ever, managed to bobble. It’s literally the only show on television that I know will always make me laugh.

If The Colbert Report has to come to an end, then I’m glad that its at least ending on a high note. The show kept its sterling quality up until the very last few weeks. And while I don’t think there will ever be another show quite like The Colbert Report, I’m cautiously optimistic that one day we might get a late night show that’s as good, but that’s only because I know that Stephen Colbert is going to host The Late Show next year. [Watch The Colbert Report]

*Full disclosure: I recently attended a Colbert Report taping and was picked to ask Colbert a question in the pre-show Q&A. I asked him about his feelings about Tauriel and Kili’s love story in The Hobbit film trilogy and he stopped himself mid-sentence to compliment my hair. It was perhaps the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, and I will love Stephen Colbert forever because of it, but that’s not why I think his show is so good. His show is simply the best.

 

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Photos: Comedy Central & Everett Collection

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