Is it just me or is Stephen Colbert giving anyone else Justin Theroux vibes on the cover of InStyle? I think it’s the t-shirt. And the pose! Colbert got an extensive profile in the September issue of InStyle because he’s finally popular. His takeover of The Late Show was pretty rocky in the first year, but the change started happening in the heat of the election – Colbert was allowed to get more political, and to really start bashing Donald Trump full-time. Nowadays, The Late Show has much better ratings, even beating the Tonight Show from time to time. But of course it’s taken its toll on Colbert, just as the Baby Fists administration has taken its toll on all of us. Obviously, much of this InStyle interview is about Trump and politics. Some highlights:
His nervous breakdown: “In my late 20s, early 30s, I had a nervous breakdown. I was subject to panic attacks and stuff like that except when I was onstage. I would curl up in a ball on a couch backstage, and then I’d hear my cue coming up, and I would uncurl, go onstage, do the show, and then go offstage and curl up again. Just a few months of fetal. And then it changed. I went to write a new show—I guess it opened a door in my brain, and it was over. I woke up one morning, and it didn’t feel like my skin was on fire. But then I thought, ‘Well, I can’t ever stop doing this because that skin-on-fire is always right behind the door.’ ”
When he says something is ‘dumb’, that’s praise: “That’s so dumb… Often when we are in the rewrite room, we don’t know how to write a joke about something, and there will be silence. Then someone will come up with an idea, and it’s just dumb enough. It’s a compliment. It takes a lot of mental provender to come up with something truly dumb, which is why I think Donald Trump must be a genius.”
Life under Trump: “I’ve gained a lot of weight. I think I’ve gained 15 pounds since Donald Trump became president.” On the night of the election, The Late Show was broadcast live. Like the media at large, they had planned for everything—apart from Trump actually winning. “I just drank,” Colbert remembers. “I drank a lot of bourbon onscreen. We didn’t know what to do.” They lurched through the show, and then Colbert went home to New Jersey. He normally stays in the city when he is shooting, but “my wife was like, ‘I would prefer that you come home, please. I don’t want to sleep by myself tonight, you know?’ ”
He doesn’t pretend he’s changing the world: “Today you’ll feel better, but these shows are cotton candy dropping in water, and I don’t pretend otherwise. I used to joke to Jon [Stewart] that we are shouting jokes into an Altoids can and throwing them off an overpass. Nobody remembers.”
The idea of being “just” a comedian: “I don’t think anybody’s ‘just a comedian.’ I am a comedian. That’s a challenging thing to be. It’s a good job, and it’s a hard job. When you say you’re a comedian, you’re not trying to slough off a responsibility—you know your responsibility. There’s a perception of journalists or the audience of getting something from us beyond the joke. But … we’re just making jokes about people’s daily experiences. My show will have no effect on the world. It’s a privilege to have this perch to tweet from. Or to do a little bird song from. So I don’t diminish that. ‘Important’? How about ‘prominent’? You’re in a prominent position, but whether it’s important or not, I don’t know. I hope people enjoy it and it makes their day better, you know?”
Whether he’s an uncomfortable person: “I can feel uncomfortable. This show has changed that in me to some degree. I played a character on the old show, so I never had to be myself in front of the camera. And I’m a big fan of me—it’s not like I’m a self-loathing person. I also like people. But I don’t know what it is about my past: I either want to have an immediate, intimate affection with you or I don’t want to talk to you at all. And it’s my fault if [the affection] doesn’t happen. So that’s my hesitancy, or that’s my discomfort with people. [Comedian] Maria Bamford has a great joke about riding in an elevator with someone she doesn’t know: ‘Crazy weather we’re having, huh?’ ‘Hold me …’ That’s exactly how I feel. Can we just cut everything else out and lie next to each other on a hill and look at the stars?”
Whenever I write about Colbert, I’m reminded of the fact that most comedians are either pretty normal, unfunny people or they’re all dysfunctional neurotics. That’s not a diss, exactly. I think Colbert loves his wife and he’s probably a great father. I think he’s being honest about his various neuroses and general discomfort. But I also kind of feel like… Colbert has lost that sparkle, where he used to make people feel like he was having fun and they could have fun by watching him. That was The Colbert Report, which was brilliant and weird and perfect for Colbert as a person/comedian. But on The Late Show, he still just seems uncomfortable. But hey, people seem to like him more these days. Is it because he’s being himself, or is it because people are just sick of consciously-apolitical Jimmy Fallon?
Also: I don’t know if I’ve gained weight since the election – I felt like I was living in the gym for a while as I tried to work off the stress of living under Trump, but I also am stress-eating a lot as I watch the news now. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if many people have been gaining weight this year.
Photos courtesy of InStyle.