Stephen Colbert has only been hosting "The Late Show” for three days, but made an impression Thursday night in a moving interview with Vice President Joe Biden that showcased for the comedian’s serious side.
Many have observed that Colbert, with a combined 17 years’ experience in political satire at “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” will have the edge over his competitors as the 2016 race for the White House gears up.
But if his interview with the vice president is any indication, Colbert may also distinguish himself as the late-night destination for weightier, deeply personal conversation.
As expected, Colbert asked Biden about his rumored presidential run -- which, for the record, he did not definitively rule out -- but otherwise there was not much in the way of political talk.
Instead, their discussion focused on more profound questions of faith and loss, prompted by the recent death of the vice president’s son Beau and by the 1972 car accident that claimed the life of his first wife, Neilia, and daughter, Naomi.
“People know that you have experienced tragedies in your life and we are inspired by the way that you have responded to those,” Colbert said shortly after welcoming Biden to the stage. “And for myself and, I suspect, for millions of people out there, I’d like to offer my condolences for the loss of your son Beau. I know that he was a great man.”
Biden, visibly moved by Colbert’s remarks, gathered himself and shared a story about his son, a rising star in the Democratic Party who died in May of brain cancer at the age of 46. Biden recalled how a few months before his death Beau had said to him, “Promise me you’re going to be all right. Because no matter what happens, I’m going to be all right.”
“He had this enormous sense of empathy,” Biden said.
Colbert then asked Biden, a fellow Catholic, what role his faith played in dealing with tragedy.
The vice president admitted that he felt “self-conscious talking about loss," but shared a quote from Kierkegaard his wife had taped to the bathroom mirror: “Faith sees best in the dark."
FULL COVERAGE: ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’
“For me, my religion is just an enormous sense of solace,” Biden continued. “Some of it relates to ritual, some of it relates to just comfort in what you’ve done your whole life. I go to Mass and I’m able to just be alone, even in the crowd. I say the rosary, I find it to be incredibly comforting. What my faith has done, it sort of takes everything about my life, my parents, my siblings, all the comforting things and all the good things that have happened, have happened around the culture of my religion and the theology of my religion. I don’t know how to explain it more than that. It’s just a place you can go.”
It was an articulation of religious belief that was as plainspoken as it was compelling, and it was also the sort of reflective discussion you’re unlikely to hear anywhere these days, much less on what is ostensibly a comedy show.
While other hosts might have shied way from such an intensely personal conversation, Colbert seemed perfectly at ease with it -- perhaps because, as Biden pointed out, he is no stranger to loss himself. When he was 10, Colbert, the youngest of 11 children, lost his father and the two brothers closest to him in age in a plane crash.
“I find the people I’m most drawn to are people who have been hurt,” Biden said to Colbert, “and I’m not going to embarrass you, buddy, but you’re one of them.”
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