We’re all somewhat used to late-night hosts reacting to the news of the day in ways that veer away from the usual silliness of the form, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when the look and feel of late-night has changed so completely. But it’s not just a recent thing or even a Trump era thing. Recall Craig Ferguson finding empathy when Britney Spears was getting mocked everywhere for concerning public behavior. Or how hosts responded following 9/11.
Still, it does seem to have grown in frequency over these last few years and Stephen Colbert has been unafraid to lead that charge, bringing authenticity and a sense of general concern for the state of things in his nightly dispatches. And on Thursday, with this seemingly interminable election cycle captivating all of us and norms getting pushed to the side, it’s no surprise that Colbert went to a very real place following Donald Trump’s latest barrage of false claims about voter fraud and ballot counts.
Lasting about eight minutes and recorded just after Trump’s speech at The White House, a black-clad Colbert started by saying that he was, “dressed for a funeral because Donald Trump really tried to kill something tonight.” He then ran through Trump’s batch of boasts and groundless assertions, challenging the president to find fresh material.
Colbert then paused for a moment after being overcome by emotions and talking about not realizing that he’d feel so heartbroken over Trump’s predictable response to potential defeat. Which is understandable. With so much of this, it’s not the surprise that gets you but the surprise that you can still be surprised.
Colbert went on, dropping a joke about butt bronzer, but this wasn’t built for laughs, it was built (or conjured from the heart) to deliver a message to Republicans whose silence Colbert views as complicity. It was a message Colbert admitted he wished he could lace with curse words. Because apparently, some norms are still in place for some of us.
Press play on the clip above to hear and absorb the whole thing and see the creative way Colbert gets around his inability to F-bomb on network television.