460 days later, Stephen Colbert is back in front of an (immunized) live audience

Two men in suits standing in front of a choir dressed in angel costumes.
Host Stephen Colbert, left, and musical director Jon Batiste on Monday night’s episode of “The Late Show.”
(Scott Kowalchyk / CBS)

Stephen Colbert made a euphoric comeback Monday to New York City’s Ed Sullivan Theater, marking the latest late-night TV show to return to the studio with a full live audience since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The host took the stage and welcomed hundreds of attendees for the first time in 460 days. Other network emcees who have trickled back to their pre-pandemic filming locations in recent months include Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden, Samantha Bee, Conan O’Brien and Seth Meyers.

“It’s great to be back,” Colbert told a packed auditorium of fully vaccinated fans. “We never really left, but we certainly weren’t here. This is a slightly different energy than the converted storage room eight floors above us ... as lovely as that was. ... I don’t know if I even remember how to pander to the most beautiful crowd in the world.”


Before Monday’s show, Colbert had been broadcasting — like many of his late-night peers — from a makeshift miniature set decorated to resemble a cozy home office, while celebrity guests visited via video chat. Monday night’s guests — comedian Jon Stewart and musician Jon Batiste — joined the host in person.

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“It feels a little bit like the first day back at school,” Colbert continued in his homecoming monologue.

“I’m excited. I’m a little nervous. I got a new haircut, new clothes ... It’s been a long time for you folks too. That’s why we’ve replaced all of our ‘Applause’ signs with ‘Remember how to applaud’ signs, and I am absolutely proud to say we are the first show back up on Broadway. Suck it, ‘Lion King’! ... Hakuna Ma-suck it.”

While celebrating the landmark occasion, Colbert jokingly thanked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has recently been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, to whom he has publicly apologized. However, the politician has refused to resign amid mounting pressure to step down in response to the allegations.

“I also want to give a shout-out to the man whose office worked with us for months ... to get us back in this theater tonight. That’s New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He’s not here tonight, but he asked me to read this note: If you remember me for one thing this year, let it be bringing back the ‘Late Show’ audience. That’s it.’”

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Colbert also made clear, “for those of you watching at home,” that everyone present for Monday’s taping had been immunized against COVID-19. To prove it, he and a handful of backup dancers dressed as giant syringes paraded maskless through the lively crowd for a vaccine-themed song and dance number.

“Being a member of my audience isn’t the only reason to get your shot,” he said. “It’s just the best reason.”

In addition to Cuomo, the comedian name-checked his wife, Evelyn, who has been her husband’s “greatest” and only audience for the last 15 months and made a brief cameo during Monday’s telecast to pass the baton.

“OK, audience. He’s all yours now,” she said. “And don’t forget to laugh, because he really needs it.”

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This week, Colbert became one of the final TV hosts to resume production as usual amid the country’s gradual mass reopening. Other late-night stars — such as Fallon and Kimmel — ditched their at-home setups several months ago in favor of empty or reduced capacity tapings.

Last Monday, Fallon welcomed a full-capacity audience back to the “Tonight Show” at Rockefeller Plaza, where he conducted a socially undistanced interview with “In the Heights” star Anthony Ramos.

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While the vast majority of late-night shows have now returned to their respective studios, “The Daily Show” has been in no rush to scrap its casual, work-from-home setting. Host Trevor Noah even told actor Arsenio Hall last week that he has “a few surprises” planned for his first episode back in the studio — though he might never wear a suit and tie to work again.

“This is who I am,” said Noah, sporting one of his signature quarantine hoodies. “I think the pandemic has stripped a lot of people of that pomp and ceremony. I think it’s a good thing. We see each other a little bit more. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to the suits and the leather shoes. If I do, I do. If I don’t, I don’t, but I will no longer think this is something I have to do.”