While it’s far too early to measure President Trump’s effect on the country, he’s undoubtedly been good for Stephen Colbert, whose “Late Show” has seen its ratings and cultural relevance surge since Jan. 20.
On Tuesday, Colbert took aim at the divisive president in a live episode broadcast barely 90 minutes after Trump’s first speech before a joint session of Congress. As Colbert told the diverse and mostly young audience at the Ed Sullivan Theater, “It’s our favorite thing to do.”
Despite the sleep deprivation, it’s easy to see why: The live broadcasts, which began during the political conventions last summer, have been essential in “The Late Show’s” turnaround and helped Colbert find his voice amid a crowded late-night field.
While Trump’s speech drew praise from many media pundits for its surprisingly measured tone -- anyone who’d planned a drinking game around mentions of “American carnage” went to bed sober -- Colbert’s barbs, delivered in a 12-minute monologue, were as sharp as ever. He targeted Trump’s track record on race and gender and controversial business reputation. If the president was attempting to be somewhat diplomatic, Colbert certainly wasn’t.
He began by explaining that the address wasn’t technically a state of the union “because I think in this timeline, the Confederacy won.” After noting that female members of the house Democratic caucus wore white in honor of women’s suffrage, Colbert quipped that “Republicans were white in honor of who elected them.”
As for Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that’s “just one of the ‘trans’ the administration is withdrawing support from.”
In response to Trump’s claim that he would have used money spent overseas to rebuild the country two or three times over, Colbert upped the ante: “Maybe even 10 times, if we had people who refused to pay their contractors.”
But the host got his biggest laugh with an obligatory but well-crafted Oscars joke. Following a clip of the sergeant at arms announcing the president’s arrival, he wondered, “Any chance there’s a mistake and ‘Moonlight’ is the president?”
Lest he be accused of blind partisanship, Colbert was, if anything, even sharper in his critique of the Democratic rebuttal, delivered by former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear “from your normal, relatable, everyday diner where everyone faces the same direction in terrified silence.”
Though Beshear was chosen specifically because he’d implemented Obamacare in his state, significantly reducing the rate of uninsured, Colbert argued that “showing a retired politician from a darkened cafeteria reinforced the Democrats’ central message for 2017: Please don’t tell them where we’re hiding.”
“People who believe that Donald Trump is an existential threat to this nation, to the experiment of democracy, to Western civilization itself, take heart,” he continued. “Because for their powerful rebuttal, the Democrats showed a rerun of ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’”
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