Incoming “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert was on “Howard Stern” this morning to discuss his new late-night gig, his career trajectory, his tragic family history, his infamous White House Correspondents stint and even Donald Trump, among numerous other things. Typical of a “Stern” sit-down, the interview was long and most importantly revealing, providing listeners a window into what makes the former “Colbert Report” host tick.
Below I've rounded up the 19 most essential moments from the interview, from a discussion of his brief stint as a cast member on the doomed “Dana Carvey Show” in the mid '90s to what effect the tragic death of his father and two of his brothers had on his life and career.
Check out the full roundup below. (Relevant clips included where available.)
1. Jim Carrey was supposed to play Ace in an “Ambiguously Gay Duo” live-action movie.
Photo Credit: NBC
Colbert voiced the role of Ace on the wildly-popular Robert Smigel and J. J. Sedelmaier-created “Saturday Night Live” animated sketch and later co-wrote a script for a live-action version that drew the attachment of then-mega-hot A-lister Jim Carrey. Alas, the project was not to be.
Howard: “Why did that never get made?”
Colbert: “I don't know, Jim Carrey was attached for awhile. Like, he would have been great as Ace. He was all into getting buff, he was like, 'I'll get all ripped and buff…Matt Damon can be Gary.' It was gonna be great!”
Howard: “I wish they would take that thing out of the mothballs and make it. Even today, I think it would do well.”
Colbert: “Jon Hamm would be a good Ace.”
Howard then made the obligatory Jon Hamm penis joke. Can you imagine if he hadn't?
2. Dana Carvey apologized to him for “ruin[ing] his career” after the “Dana Carvey Show” tanked.
Photo Credit: ABC
Colbert received an early break as a cast member on the shortlived ABC sketch comedy series, on which he was slated, among other things, to anchor the satirical “Onion News” (of which one segment was shot but never aired). Unfortunately, the show took a ratings nosedive during its very first episode.
“The first show goes on the air, and Dana Carvey is playing Bill Clinton. And we're right after 'Home Improvement,' which is a great show, but super, like very family friendly. And at the time, it was the number one show. It was better ratings than 'Seinfeld.' 'Seinfeld' was number two. It was like 25 million people! Numbers you never see anymore. Or 28 [million], something crazy. Cause I remember our first episode was like 24 million people saw it.
“And Dana is dressed up as Bill Clinton, and he's got working teets, like dog teets, on his chest. And he's breast-feeding puppies and kittens. And something like 10 million people shut off the TV immediately and they never came back. And the next day, Dana came in to — Steve Carrell and I shared an office together…and he walked in, he goes, hey guys, sorry, I've ruined your career. You both should have been on 'SNL' and I've ruined that for you and I'd like to apologize, and I'll do my best to get you jobs after this. That was it, cause he was like we're canceled. He knew we were canceled.”
The big headline on that sole “Onion News” segment, in case you were wondering? An important story entitled “Area Bowl Cashed”. As Colbert explained: “It was just, we threw live to a press conference of two stoners announcing that their bowl was cashed, and their plans to re-pack the bowl.”
3. His brief stint at “Good Morning America” was a disaster.
After being hired as a comedic correspondent for the then-ratings challenged morning newscast, Colbert only managed to get “one story” on the air before being let go. As he explained, “I pitched 25 pieces in a row and they shot them all down.” Which is…not the best thing that could have happened.
4. He suffered a nervous breakdown shortly after he got married.
“I had just gotten married, and I realized 'I want something like a normative life,' you know? I realized, I want kids and I don't want to be traveling all over the world and going to this gig and that gig. And I had a complete nervous breakdown. Literally, had to be medicated, curled up in a ball, nervous breakdown. My wife was like, who did I marry? Cause I did not display any of this at any time of my life. It was like my skin was on fire a month after I got married.”
5. He got rid of his Southern accent by modeling his speaking voice after former “NBC Nightly News” anchor John Chancellor.
Photo Credit: NBC
“On TV, stereotypically they would show Southern people as dumb,” noted Colbert, who was raised in Charleston, South Carolina. “Like a Southern accent would be dumb. …And I wanted to seem smart, you know? As I said, like maybe not even be smart. Just seeming smart, really important to me. …So I decided I was gonna sound like — I remember like John Chancellor, specifically. Not [Walter] Cronkite. But Chancellor sounded like he was from nowhere.”
6. He doesn't stress about beating Jimmy Fallon in the ratings.
Howard: “Your career definitely depends on beating the shit out of Jimmy Fallon.”
Colbert: “I disagree. You know what, I'll say this. I'm in the In Memoriam reel already. They're gonna play sad music when I die. I'll be late, I'll be late in the reel, don't get me wrong. I'm not at the top. I'm down with like a really good editor, or like a producer you've never heard of.”
Not surprisingly, Howard would not let this go.
Howard: “I will guarantee you you will end up resenting Jimmy Fallon.”
Colbert: “I disagree with you.”
Howard: “It's gonna be vicious, and don't kid yourself.”
Colbert: “Why shouldn't I kid myself? I'm a kidder.”
Nice evasion, sir.
7. He found out that his former Second City colleague Chris Farley died the very first day he was slated to sit in for former “Daily Show” host Craig Kilborn.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Richard Drew
“I had only worked there for like a week or something. And they said, 'you, new guy!' Which was my credit in the show. New Guy. 'New guy, you're gonna go in for Craig this week.' And I said, 'okay.' And I was doing a read-down, last read-down, about to go to makeup, when they came in and the said [Farley] just died.”
8. He doesn't remember the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner being as bad as everyone made it out to be. In fact, Antonin Scalia loved it.
Though his more-cutting-than-expected digs at then-president George W. Bush at the Dinner were widely hyped by the media at the time, Colbert doesn't recall the night being quite as rancorous as some have claimed. Which isn't to say it went smoothly.
“I don't remember people walking out. I remember people not talking to me afterwards. And no one on the dais like making eye contact with me. Except [White House Press Secretary] Tony Snow, the late great Tony Snow, came over and he was really gracious…and [traditionally conservative Supreme Court Justice] Antonin Scalia. Scalia comes over to me and he goes, that was great! Really great stuff! And I'm thinking, don't make me love you, old man.”
9. He thinks Donald Trump is “something of a brilliant figure,” which I don't think he means as a compliment.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig
“He's like a complete creature of the right's creation. If money is speech, which is the argument for [campaign finance reform critic and Republican Senator] Mitch McConnell…well, what is the end product of that logic? Donald Trump is the end product of that logic. If money is speech, what you don't want is a guy you don't want in the race who's got 10 billion dollars of talk.”
10. He has no idea what happened to the money he raised through his Colbert Super PAC after his never-to-be 2012 presidential bid.
Photo Credit: Comedy Central
“It disappeared,” said Colbert, pegging the remaining amount at around a million dollars. “All the money left my account. And it went through two charities, two 501c4s, and then it's gone forever. And I've challenged anybody out there. I said, 'can you prove what happened to that money? Because I doubt you can prove what happened to that money.'”
11. The “Chevy Chase Show” was canceled faster than it took for him to receive his official “Chevy Chase Show” hat in the mail.
Photo Credit: FOX
“I have a crew hat from the 'Chevy Chase Show,'” said Colbert, referencing the short-lived late-night talk show that was canceled by FOX after only five weeks on the air. “A friend of mine was a scenic, a painter, on that show. When that show first started, [she] goes, oh, you might like this! And she mailed it to me. And by the time it got to me, [it was] canceled. And I wear that hat around our offices sometimes. To go like, guys, keep working.”
12. Would-be late night competitor Jimmy Kimmel is coming on “The Late Show.”
Photo Credit: Rich Fury/Invision/AP
“That's an exclusive,” said Colbert after revealing the booking. “Nobody knows that, by the way. That's an exclusive. That's a Howard exclusive.”
13. He was in a Rolling Stones cover band in high school.
“I wore very tight jeans and I wore my brother Peter's soccer jersey. And his number was zero. And so I wore a red and white striped soccer jersey. Cause I thought it was sort of English, it was sort of European.”
He then proceeded to sing “Brown Sugar,” his go-to Stones song, in studio. Let us all celebrate this.
14. His father and two of his brothers died in the crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 212 on September 11, 1974, when Colbert was only ten years old.
After the cockpit recorder from the doomed flight was analyzed, it was revealed that the pilots had been talking about non-flight-specific topics as they were preparing to land. The finding actually resulted in a new law entitled the “Sterile Cockpit Rule”:
“[The pilots] were talking about a place called Carowinds, which was an amusement park, like a Six Flags, back then. That's why as a kid I could never go to Carowinds…my mom would never take me, yeah. …Below a certain…I don't know what the height is, you cannot talk about anything other than the approach. That rule was instituted after they listened to the cockpit recorder.”
15. He got an inkling that he wanted to be a comedian on the ride back from burying his father and brothers.
“We were coming back from the cemetery, and one of my sisters, I think my sister Mary made my sister Margo laugh so hard in the back of the limo…and my sister Margo laughed so hard that she fell on the floor of the limo and snorted laughing, even in the midst of how we were feeling at that moment…and I remember thinking, 'I want that. I want to be able to make that connection.' That was important to me.”
16. Gwen Stefani may have been on to something when she mispronounced his name at the 2014 Emmys.
The original pronunciation of the family name is Col-BERT, not Col-BEAR — but a desire to believe that they were French inspired Colbert and some of his other family members to go by the latter.
“[My father] always wanted to go by Col-BEAR, because the family legend was that we were French. And I found out since then that we're not, we're 100% Irish, no French at all. …Jean-Baptiste Colbert…you know, the guy who built Versailles. That's who we thought we were related to. …Some of us are Col-BERT, and some of us are Col-BEAR.”
17. He may not be doing the traditional standup monologue on “The Late Show,” a format that was recently eschewed by Seth Meyers.
“Oh, I'm not a standup,” Colbert answered when Howard asked. “I'm really a sketch comedian. I'm an actor, who classically trained.”
Speculate at your leisure.
18. He's deaf in one ear due to a rare condition from childhood.
“I'm not only deaf, I don't have an eardrum in my right ear. […] I had a problem since…probably since I was born. It's called a Cholesteatoma, it's a benign sort of tumor. It's basically, the skin on your ear's always growing to keep your eardrum soft. Mine grows in, it doesn't grow out.”
19. He's a practicing Catholic and doesn't mind being mocked about it.
“I am a Catholic. 'Devout' is a word I don't entirely understand anymore. …I have, I taught [Sunday School] for three years, I'm not teaching right now. …I don't mind being mocked about it, I mean that's good. If you can come up with a good joke about the Catholic Church I might steal it.”
In other words, mock away.
“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” premieres September 8 on CBS.