The passing of the "Late Show" torch has officially begun. On Tuesday, Stephen Colbert paid his first visit to the Ed Sullivan Theater following the news that he will be taking over for David Letterman next year.
To answer your first question: No, Colbert was not in character, as evidenced by the stylish black glasses he wore, rather than the conservative wire-rim frames his blustery character prefers and, of course, by his modest and affable persona. Colbert plans to abandon his alter-ego when he assumes the "Late Show" throne, and Tuesday's visit provided a sneak peek of someone we're likely to see much more of very soon.
Colbert, known for his quick wit, wasted no time delivering his first punchline. "Obviously, I'm thrilled," he said of his new job.
"Well, I'm thrilled as well," Letterman replied. "Paul and I have been doing this a long, long time. They could have just as easily hired a boob like me, but they didn't."
"They hired a boob like me," Colbert interjected. "Every boob is like a snowflake, Dave, we're all unique in our own way."
As Colbert went on to explain, his journey to "The Late Show" began 27 years ago, when he was fresh out of college and his girlfriend had applied for an internship at Letterman's previous show, "Late Night" on NBC. He tagged along on her interview, and in a cruel twist, he got offered an internship but she did not. No, the relationship did not last, and to make matters worse, Colbert turned down the position.
"Why is that?" Letterman wondered.
"Because you do not pay people," said Colbert.
Another close brush with "The Late Show" arrived 10 years later, when Colbert and his partner Paul Dinello submitted a packet to become writers on the program. By the time they got a call back four months later, they were already committed to "Strangers With Candy," the twisted Comedy Central series they starred in with Amy Sedaris.
But Colbert, apparently a packrat, stilll had the Top 10 list he and Dinello submitted 17 years ago, and gamely shared it on the air. The theme was Top 10 cocktails for Santa and entries included a "vodka giblet -- one part vodka, any part turkey organ" and the "scrooge driver -- grain alcohol and regret."
Colbert may not have been the right man for the job back in 1997, but on Tuesday all signs pointed to a smooth transition from Letterman to his successor. The two men shared an easy rapport, and really seemed to bond when the conversation turned from family vacations (Colbert recently went bungee jumping with his children in New Zealand) to the pains of being a comedian.
"Do you relax well?" Letterman wondered.
"No, I do not," Colbert said. "I don't know why you do comedy, but it's not because everything's all right up here for me. It's not a normal thing to do with your life. It's more dangerous than bungee jumping, deciding to do this for a living. But I don't have the constitution for hard-core alcoholism. I have to tell jokes all the time or I go a little insane."
"Have you tried the alcoholism at all?" asked Letterman, a renowned teetotaller.
"I get sleepy," Colbert replied.
The hosts even commemorated the visit with a selfie, and let's just say they both look pretty pleased.