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"Thank you for all joining me for my first episode of The Late Show with/starring Stephen Colbert! I am he. You are all witnessing television history and like most history, it's not on the History Channel."
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In 2014, two major figures were coming to crossroads in their lives. David Letterman was no longer interested in hosting a talk show and wanted to spend more time with his son, while Stephen Colbert was growing tired of maintaining his fictional persona and was planning to end his show. Thus, the stage was set to finalize the generational shift that had been happening in American late night TV since Jay Leno announced his first retirement.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert debuted on September 8, 2015, on CBS with Colbert being joined on stage by New Orleans jazz musician Jon Batiste and Stay Human as his house band. The new show is shot in an extensively renovated Ed Sullivan Theater and features a brighter, more energetic style that is also simultaneously more intimate thanks to Colbert's stage being pushed closer to the audience than Letterman's.

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This version of the Late Show also slightly moves away from the pop culture commentary of other late night talk shows. Colbert continues to make political commentaries from behind his desk (though not in character this time), and his guests have remained an eclectic mix of celebrity, political, and business figures. In many ways, Colbert's Late Show is basically like the old Colbert Report, but stripped of the tiring (for him) faux-conservative act.

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Tropes associated with The Late Show with Stephen Colbert include:

  • Aborted Arc: Stephen had grown a beard while on break in 2018 and had plans to turn it into a comedic rivalry with Alex Trebek, where the two would engage in a trivia contest with the loser being forced to shave. But things came to a screeching halt and Stephen came on cleanly shaven before the contest could happen because his wife kept saying she didn't like the beard.
  • Adorkable: Stephen. What else can you call someone who gives withdrawing Presidential candidates a Hunger Games-style sendoff, has Captain America's shield on the wall, and does a happy dance every time he comes running out to do his opening monologue?
  • Affectionate Parody: A whole segment parodying The Twilight Zone, in which Stephen introduces three scenes that are just the twist endings of three "unaired" Twilight Zone segments.
  • And Now For Something Completely Different: To cover for the 2018 Thanksgiving break, the show aired a pre-taped episode where the guests sat behind the desk and interviewed Stephen.
  • The Announcer: In only the first year on-air, Colbert went to three different intro announcers already. At first, it was Colbert himself. Later on, he was replaced by an uncredited member of the house band. Beginning with the 2016 convention episodes, Jen Spyra (who is one of the writers, and also voiced Cartoon Hillary Clinton) took over.
  • Bank Toaster: Stephen quips that the Russian bank Vnesheconombank has such close ties to Vladimir Putin that if one opens a checking account for $100 or more, one receives "a free toaster and a dead journalist."
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Stephen, who is a practicing Catholic and Sunday school teacher, seems to be going a bit out of his way to avert this trope in the loudest, noisiest manner he can get away with on network television. Not only did Pope Francis' 2015 visit to the USA bring about a round-table theological discussion with other prominent Catholics (and a barrage of Catholic jokes), he's swapped favorite Bible verses with none other than Oprah Winfrey, held a deep (and sobering) discussion with Joe Biden (a fellow Catholic) on grief and the nature of faith, spoke to Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine (a former Jesuit missionary) on faith, humility, and service, and held a very short but very civil debate with Ricky Gervais, an outspoken atheist, discussing why Stephen believes and why Ricky doesn't. As a result, he is a very visible example of someone whose faith complements humor, curiosity, and intelligence, instead of rejecting them.
  • Big Applesauce: Like Letterman and the Report (and The Daily Show, for that matter), The Late Show with Stephen Colbert continues to originate from New York. The original opening sequence was a gorgeous stop-motion sequence of the city shot with a tilt-shift lens. (Considering that Letterman broadcast his show from New York and the fact that Colbert has lived in Montclair for years and is still raising his kids, moving the show probably would have been irresponsible and stupidnote .)
  • The Big Damn Kiss:
    • What Sally Field planted on Stephen before sitting down for her interview on the March 9, 2016 episode, topping the smack on the lips Helen Mirren had given him the night before. If that wasn't enough, two nights after the lip-lock with Field, Jeff Daniels kissed Stephen!
    • The tradition continued with Andrew Garfield, only a couple days after the 2017 Golden Globes where Garfield had another The Big Damn Kiss with Ryan Reynolds. He and Colbert kissed twice.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Both Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report Stephen do this upon finding out about Donald Trump's 2016 GOP nomination. Combined with a Spit Take.
  • Bilingual Bonus: During his first appearance on the show, Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate, broke into untranslated, unsubtitled Spanish when asked what he thought of Donald Trump's attempt to "soften" his stance on immigration. After his initial English reply, he followed with what roughly translated to, "I know people in the Latino community. His words are bad [i.e. rude and inflammatory] and his actions make him look like an idiot." The last word needed no translation and got a roar of laughter from the audience.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor:
    • In reference to the drama reruns CBS scheduled in place of Late Show after Letterman ended, CBS CEO Les Moonves made a cameo on the premiere manning a Mentalist switch (which may or may not be an homage to Conan O'Brien's Walker, Texas Ranger Lever), which he could use to switch back to The Mentalist reruns if he wasn't happy with Colbert's performance.
    • Stephen usually takes jabs at CBS if they meddle with his segments, like bleeping his lines or blurring pictures.
  • Bland-Name Product: Stephen presented a segment called "WERD" after Viacom (owners of Comedy Central) lodged a complaint about his use of his Colbert Report persona and "The Word" without their permission.
  • Blanket Fort: One recurring segment has Stephen and a guest enter a blanket fort and ask each other questions while taking on the mentality of small children.
  • Bohemian Parody: Stephen at first makes an Obligatory Joke regarding "Bohemian Rhapsody" when talking about the White House's then-current Communications Director Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci ("Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?") After Scaramucci got fired after only 10 days on the job, Colbert sang a parody of a different part of "Rhapsody."
    Mama, I just got canned
    Barely got to the White House
    Said some dumb stuff; now, I'm out
    Mama, my job had just begun
    And now I've gone and thrown it all away
    Mama, Mo-oo-ooch didn't mean to cause outcry
    I won't be back to Mooch this time tomorrow
    Carry on, carry on without the old Front-Stabber.
    • Later on, when Scaramucci was invited onto the show as a guest, the house band actually played "Bohemian Rhapsody" as Scaramucci walked on stage.
  • The Bore: During the campaign, it became a Running Gag for Stephen to "fall asleep" at the mere mention of Mike Pence.
  • Brick Joke: When Michael Stipe first appeared on this show with Stephen, Stephen pointed out that they tried to auction off a lot of old props from The Colbert Report... and among those props for sale, with a price tag attached as well... was Michael himself. Nobody ended up buying him, surprisingly.
  • Call-Back:
  • Cavemen vs. Astronauts Debate: The weekly "Friday Night Fights" segment, in which Stephen and a guest argue which of various things would win in a fight — for example, an Apple Genius with a switchblade versus a Walmart greeter with a crossbow — then invite the viewers to weigh in through a Twitter poll.
  • The Cameo: Who shows up within the first 5 minutes of Stephen's first episode as host? Jon Stewart.
    • Now to the point of a Running Gag. Jon Stewart even lives under Stephen's desk!
  • Cheap Heat: Stephen reads a "prediction" from a fortune cookie:
    Stephen: Audiences will remain easy to pander to, especially in New York, the greatest city in the world! [New York audience cheers]
  • Chronically Killed Actor: When Steve Buscemi was a guest, his reputation for getting killed off naturally came up. Buscemi's "favorite" death is apparently Donny's heart attack in The Big Lebowski.
  • Cold Open: Originally, Stephen entered the studio and did a bit of his monologue before introducing the band and cuing the opening titles. As of April 18, 2016, the show now opens with a pre-recorded sketch as a cold open, and then goes right to the open.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Parodied in the recurring "Big Questions With Even Bigger Stars" segments.
  • Cool Hat:
    • Stephen's Big Furry Hat, which descends from the ceiling, gives him the power to make proclamations that shape the world to his will. John Cleese has a Big Tall Furry Hat that rivals Stephen's.
    • Stay Human's percussionist and bassist both sport some rather snazzy headgear.
  • Confessional: Played for laughs in the recurring segment "Stephen Colbert's Midnight Confessions", where Stephen makes humorous confessions to the audience about misdeeds that may or may not be bad. And often knocks back a drink.
  • Corpsing: Stephen cracks up during a monologue when the headline catches him off-guard.
    • Stephen simply can't contain himself against Laura Benanti's Melania Trump impression.
  • Creepy Monotone: Played for Laughs, of course, but occasionally he's shifted to acting like a supervillain discussing the formula (surveyed from the monitor), and demanding that archaeologists send him the elixir from a Chinese tomb.
  • Crowd Chant:
    • Carried over from The Colbert Report, the show starts with the audience enthusiastically chanting "Stephen!"
    • On September 10, 2015, the audience loudly chanted "JOE!" to try and encourage Vice President Joe Biden to make another run for the presidency.
    • Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the 2016 presidential candidates, got a "BERNIE! BERNIE!" chant on his visit.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Played for Laughs, of course; Stephen jokingly threatened to stab Apple CEO Tim Cook "in the neck with a fondue fork" if Apple had introduced another iPhone charger. Fortunately for all concerned, Cook found this hilarious.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Played with during a segment talking about the difficulties in getting people to join Donald Trump's legal team. Stephen then reads out a list of high-profile alleged and convicted criminals who had no trouble getting a lawyer - the list starts with O.J. Simpson, and ends with O.J. Simpson as played by Cuba Gooding Jr. (Joran van der Sloot is also listed twice, but those were for separate crimes).
  • Disney Owns This Trope: Not unlike Letterman (who was also subjected to legal wrangling over the use of bits from his previous program on Late Show because NBC claimed ownership of them), Colbert disclosed on the July 27, 2016 episode that lawyers from a certain other company had contacted CBS after he resurrected his old Colbert Report persona, and informed CBS that the character and all associated segments were their intellectual property. he introduced "Stephen Colbert's identical twin cousin, Stephen Colbert from Philadelphia"note , and immediately followed it up by doing a segment called "WERD" As Himself rather than his Colbert persona.
  • Double Entendre: From "We're Stuck In This Together":
    Stephen: And though it's been only stormy weather - we can't drift apart - because we are stuck here together!
  • Establishing Character Moment: The show's first week including the pilot, the gigantic performance of "Everyday People", and an interview with Joe Biden did a very impressive job of effectively distinguishing it from The Colbert Report and establishing its tone as a kinder, more optimistic, and heartwarming show than even most of American television.

  • Failed a Spot Check: Invoked. During one episode, Stephen hid a shot of actor J. K. Simmons in the crowd shot of Republican candidates, then cackled and pointed out that 99% of the audience (at least) never spotted it, as a riff on the fact that most people don't even know who the majority of the Republican primary candidates are.
    • And perhaps also as a jab at the fact that....with a few exceptions....it's a big sea of old white guys. Adding one more old balding white guy wouldn't make the group pic that much different.
  • Fake Band: The show went through a lot of trouble creating a back story for Troubled Waters, the world's premiere Paul Simon tribute band, led by Allen, who looks remarkably like Paul Simon.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: In one opening sketch a snake decries the stereotype of the dangerous viper (only a small percentage of snakes are deadly to humans) and laments he has yet to find a woman that is as affectionate towards snakes as the one in the poem being read on stage.
    Snake: Where are all these ladies that love to kiss snakes? I have not found one!
  • First-Name Basis: Stephen "Starstruck Dork" Colbert is now on a first-name basis with First Lady Michelle Obama and he is very excited about it. This gets Played for Laughs later with recurring guest Laura Benanti in the role of the next First Lady, Melania Trump.
  • Friendly Enemy:
    • With his time-slot rival Jimmy Fallon. The two have had nothing but nice things to say about each other in the press, Fallon gave Colbert his well-wishes in the episode that aired opposite Colbert's debut and said debut even featured a cameo appearance from Fallon. Clearly, the two don't want a repeat of the bad blood the existed between their predecessors, Jay Leno and David Letterman.
    • Ditto Jimmy Kimmel, although Colbert jokingly advised the audience that Kimmel's show is on at "12:35 AM on your DVR" (this would undermine Colbert's CBS stable-mate James Corden). During Kimmel's first appearance, they talked at length about sharing the same agent and then brought said agent out to judge a cooking competition between the two hosts. Colbert wins.
    • During Stephen's first ever Friday shownote , he mentions all the gifts the various late night talk show hosts sent him and his crew. Declaring that the Late Night Wars are back on he angrily announced that he'd strike back with thoughtful thank you notes.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: When Stephen had Felix Kjellberg (aka PewDiePie) on the show, Felix took the opportunity to teach Stephen some Swedish swears. Stephen wondered if the profanity would still be censored and laughed at the idea of forcing CBS censors to learn Swedish. Most of the profanity was in fact bleeped out, though "helvete" made it through.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The graphics whenever Stephen displays a quote feature what seem to be bits of newspaper, but are actually the beginning of his Election Night 2016 speech.
  • Gag Sub: In some pre-title scenes, one of which has a German news anchor Corpsing on camera.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • Stephen, while going after Donald Trump hard over Trump's reaction to Khizr Khan's speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, used terms like "What the family" and "Dad-bag" while saying that the onscreen text had to be shortened to "What the F" and "D-Bag" due to lack of screen space.
    • On the May 17, 2016, episode, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara appeared together to promote Schitt's Creek. Every time the name of the show was spoken, a Commercial Pop-Up appeared ("Schitt's Creek: Wednesdays on Pop") to make it absolutely clear that Schitt's Creek really was the title and that they weren't just saying "shit" uncensored on broadcast TV. The three of them proceeded to say the title as often as possible.
      • When Eugene's son and Schitt's Creek co-creator Daniel Levy appears on the show, Colbert has continued to push the gag with both men repeating the name of the show multiple times to trigger the commercial pop up.
      • It actually happened again in 2018 thanks to Trump putting out a tweet referring to House Intelligence Committee leader Adam Schiff as "little Adam Schitt". Colbert noted that as long as the tweet appears on-screen, he can say it without getting bleeped.
    • On the 2018 midterms live episode, Colbert singled out the Virginia 5th congressional district race just so he could point out that the candidates' names were Denver Riggleman and Leslie Cockburn.
    • Stephen scores the jackpot when they reveal the name of a Russian Ukranian developer involved with Trump: Pavel Fuks (rhymes with "books"). The audience is already laughing when the name appears on-screen, and Stephen wastes no time or effort to milk it for all he can.
    • Along the same vein, Laura Benanti's Melania Trump accent and the way she pronounces "focus", as heard here.
  • A Glass of Chianti: In the final stages of The Hungry for Power Games, "Cartoon Donald Trump" appeared in a gaudy suit worthy of the Capitol, glass raised to the audience.
  • Glasses Pull: In this sketch, Stephen does the dramatic glasses pull only for them to be back on his face in the next shot. He does it eight times during one scene.
  • God: God became a minor recurring character on the show after a gag about how even He doesn't know how the 2016 election got so ridiculous. He talks from the Ed Sullivan Theater's stain glass ceiling and casually chats with Stephen about why He had Cleveland win the NBA, what He would do for $50,000, and his candidacy for president.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: During one of his Big Furry Hat segments, Stephen winds up involved in this with John Cleese, both in terms of hats and ham, and it is glorious.
  • Hammerspace: Stephen's new desk, much like his previous ones, holds an impossible amount of props for him to play with during the show. Mr. Hand even moved over to CBS with him.
  • Happily Married: Now that he's not playing a fictional character anymore, Stephen's been able to ditch the conceit that he was in an unhappy marriage with a woman named Lorraine and joyfully tell the world about how much he loves his real-life wife Evelyn. He even had her sit in the audience for his first few weeks of shows just so he could see her every night and remind himself that he is now Stephen Colbert rather than "Stephen Colbert".
  • He's Back: The return of his old character and Jon Stewart during the election to cover several topics, though the show got involved in legal tangles with Viacom for using the character "Stephen Colbert." Stephen responded by bringing in "his identical cousin" to do those segments from there on out. Jon, however, continues to make semi-regular appearances.
  • Heaven Above: Whenever God stops by to chat, He's always peeking over a cloud on the ceiling, forcing Stephen and the audience to crane their necks up to have a conversation with the guy.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Jon Stewart, of course. (What, did you think that would change?) Jon gives him his sendoff to his first episode with "Play ball!", is an executive producer for the show, and in a pre-taped segment regarding Stephen's pre-show rituals, Jon is revealed to be the last person Stephen talks to before he starts every show. Whether that Reveal is literal or "just" metaphorical, it's abundantly clear that while their days together on Comedy Central are over, the epic Stewart/Colbert bromance is going nowhere fast.
    • Taken Up to Eleven with another skit, where it is revealed that post-retirement, Jon Stewart is living in a log cabin...with the "Colbert Report" Steven Colbert. (Who is treated as a separate person).
  • Hulking Out: Well, Conservative-Punditing-Out. Whenever there is a story that is of particular interest to Colbert Report-Stephen, his conservative persona emerges without regular Stephen being able to stop it. The terms Stephen uses to describe the relationship with his conservative persona also evoke Bruce Banner's relationship with the Hulk. Colbert being the Marvel Comics fan that he is, this was almost certainly intentional.
    Late Show Stephen: Is he gone? Did he say anything about me? I think he's gained some weight!
  • Hurricane of Puns:
    • Colbert makes one when calling on all Americans to eat 3 extra pounds of cheese to get rid of the oversupply of cheese made by American dairy farmers:
      There comes a time when every generation is asked to serve their country. So I'm calling on all Americans to fight the gouda fight. We don't do this because it is easy cheese, but because it is havarti. We must walk softly and carry a big mozzarella stick. We must boldly asiago where no manchego has gone briefore and if we do, if we do, we will become cheddar than all the rest. So dig deep and find that extra gruyere, get in the calzone and join me, because I'm feta-up to here and if you think I can do this provalone, you ricotta be kidding me. We must come together and slay the munster. Just fondue it! Jarlsburg ready for swiss?
    • After MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes called Bernie Sanders "Bernie Sandwiches", Stephen went into roughly a solid minute of sandwich puns (starting at 6:50 in the linked video), mentioning eleven sandwiches (in italics), which he actually proceeded to bring out:
      Bernie Sandwiches, a name everyone can get behind because he’s not a member of the old boys’ club; he fights the rich guys on behalf of the po’ boys. He’s someone with a trusting, open face and will surely win Florida by appealing to Cubans and... he is Au Jus-ish candidate. Plus, he has a long history of supporting the LGBLT community. Sure, the Democratic establishment may have a beef with him now because he’s been Reuben them the wrong way. And I know it may sound hoagie, and he doesn’t have it all wrapped up yet, but in times like these, his supporters believe we need a hero.
    • The first segment on the Steele dossier, needless to say, had very nearly two full minutes of pee jokes, mostly starting at around 2:40. (There are a few additional ones in the video description, specifically "despite the torrent of PEOTUS stories flooding the country" - "PEOTUS", one may note, stands for "president-elect of the United States", but in this case, there's a clear second meaning. There are a few scattered puns elsewhere in the video as well.)
      Everyone admits this report is unverified, and the man is about to be President of the United States, so I’m not going to validate that report by sharing the most salacious details from it. Even the detail everyone’s talking about; you might call it the Number One detail. I think this is just an unfortunate leak that’s making a huge mess. And I know I’m being a wet blanket, but reporting on this is the worst kind of yellow journalism. And even though jokes about this story are a golden opportunity, I won’t do it. Not to stay the story didn’t make a huge splash; it did. It flooded Twitter. We’ll keep you up to date as facts trickle in. We have our best researcher working on it; she’s a real whiz. One thing is for sure: the President-Elect is a Goldwater Republican who truly believes in trickle-down. He has the respect of our emergency service workers who gave his plane a water salute. Trump has even denied allegations like this before, in the strongest of terms: "No pee pee." So no, no. I’m not going to make any jokes, not even a wee one. So I’m cutting it off now; I’m finished. Wait, a little more is coming out. Happens sometimes. But after eight years of listening to Trump make unsubstantiated claims about Obama’s birth certificate, I don’t think it matters if this is true or not, because the fact is, it’s out there, and that means, Mr. Trump, you’re in trouble.
  • Hypocrisy Nod: When Putin won the 2018 elections under questionable circumstances and Trump congratulated him despite the many advisors telling him not to, Stephen lambastes Trump for doing so. When it's pointed out that Obama did something similar to Putin back in 2012, Stephen tries to justify Obama having done so, before using a Smoke Bomb to try and avoid addressing the question.
  • Hypocritical Humour: In his segment on Trump's State of the Union address, Colbert mocked Trump for incessantly applauding his own speech, saying only a crazy person would do that. Colbert then proceeded to applaud himself whenever his audience did throughout the rest of the monologue. May double as a television equivalent of Self-Demonstrating Article.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Despite having dropped the faux-conservative blowhard persona, Stephen continues to pronounce his last name as "Col-Bear" while on stage (the pronunciation being an affectation he picked up to distinguish his stage persona from himself). When interviewing with an immigration expert while mulling about whether or not he should flee to Canada in the event of a Donald Trump presidency, he makes a point of pronouncing the "T" in his last name.
  • Kent Brockman News: "Real News Tonight," whose one purpose is to give Trump a news outlet that will flatter his ego so that he doesn't launch any nukes in a fit of pique.
  • Lampshaded the Obscure Reference: After mentioning that his Tesla — a surprisingly lightweight, fast car with smooth handling — had the option to be named, Stephen, ever the Tolkien nerd, reveals that he called it "Vingilótë" in tribute, adding, "If you understood that, I'm sorry you had also such a tough time in middle school".
  • Large Ham Announcer: As with most late night talk shows, the night's guests are announced by an enthusiastic announcer. Bonus: Stephen does it himself. Well, he did for the first three weeks. Since September 28, 2015, an uncredited member of Stay Human took over announcing duties before Jen Spyra, one of the show's writer,note  took over from July 18, 2016.
  • The Law Firm of Pun, Pun, and Wordplay: When discussing Trump's lawyers advising him not to consent to an interview with Robert Mueller, he calls it "A crack legal analysis from the law firm of No, Sh*t and Sherlock."
  • Let's Duet: Stephen likes singing with other people just as much as "Stephen" ever did, including joining his musical guests on several occasions and coaxing Emily Blunt into singing a snippet of "On the Street Where You Live" with him (where he impressed her with his ability to trill). Later he sang "America the Beautiful" with John Legend (a frequent duet partner on the Report); the result was so gorgeous he actually said, "People are gonna make love to that!" He also did a full-blown song and dance number with James Corden to demonstrate the two CBS hosts' shared love of musical theater.
  • Live Episode: Starting in 2016, live broadcasts became an occasional event for the show.
    • The January 8, 2016 episode following was aired live, as well as a special broadcast immediately after the Super Bowl.
    • Two full weeks of live shows were done to cover the 2016 Republican and Democratic conventions. After Donald Trump's long speech, the show even broadcast live at 1 am.
    • The show was also broadcast live after the first two 2016 Presidential debates as well as the Vice Presidential debate.
    • On the night of the 2016 Election, the show went live on Showtime due to CBS covering the election itself. The Showtime broadcast was titled Stephen Colbert's Live Election Night Democracy's Series Finale: Who's Going To Clean Up This Shit and was rated TV-MA, with several instances of unbleeped cursing and even some mild nudity from a male model. Several pre-taped segments were filmed to fill in Showtime's non-existent commercial breaks but were scrapped during the actual broadcast as it became clearer and clearer that Donald Trump would win the election.
    • The January 28, 2018 episode, the night of Trump's first State of the Union address, was live.
    • A live episode was aired on November 6, 2018 — the night of the midterm elections.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Both Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report version of Stephen had been living off the grid in a log cabin since ending their respective shows, meaning they were both completely blindsided by Donald Trump's 2016 GOP nomination.
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: In a prelude to the May 28, 2018 episode, Trump is portrayed playing digital poker against various world leaders, bets everything through sound clips when the Nobel Peace Prize appears on the table ("I want that!"), including Eric Trump... and loses. Worse, "audio clip" Trump gets him back, and gives him back again after asking, "Where's my boy?" but explaining that still meant the Nobel Peace Prize. "You can have him."
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "We're Stuck In This Together", which has very upbeat, pop-style music but Stephen is actually singing about the feeling of helplessness which a lot of people experienced during the first two years of the Trump administration until the midterms.
    Stephen: Whichever side won today, the good news is, Americans are all in this together! The bad new is... same as the good news.
  • The Man in the Moon: When Colbert suggests a mob-themed children's book Sleep Well, Moon (on the matter of "sleep well" in any context), the moon is visible out the window with a dismayed expression.
  • My Eyes Are Up Here: Parodied with a Bait-and-Switch in one of his segments featuring "Melania Trump." In light of the controversy surrounding the "I really don't care, do u?" jacket, Stephen confronts Melania's choice of clothing featuring contradictory statements.
    "Melania": Stephen! Stop looking at my shirt! My lies are up here!
  • Myers–Briggs: On the 9/28/15 episode, as part of his ongoing effort to find out "Who is the real Stephen Colbert?", the show included a pre-taped segment in which Stephen had his Myers-Briggs personality type assessed. Turns out he's an INFP, to the surprise of many people who thought he'd be an extrovert.note 
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever Bryan Cranston did in Tampa. All the audience gets to find out is that he thinks he can't get into Heaven because of it, and his biggest fear is anyone finding out what it is.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: When Donald Trump compared Ted Cruz's wife unfavorably to his own, Colbert noted that this sort of thing does have precedent, like when Mary Todd Lincoln was compared to a sheep in heat. When the laughter dies down, he reveals that it actually happened and wasn't just a joke.
  • Not That There's Anything Wrong with That: Refreshingly (and awesomely) averted. When comedian Billy Eichner mentioned a friend of his who had said, "Stephen Colbert is so smart he has to at least be bi," Stephen blinked a bit, then gave a rather pleased smirk and noted that he'd take that as a compliment — one which he definitely didn't deserve. Classiest "I'm not gay, but I'm not offended" exchange ever.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: An interview with Bruce Willis degenerated into a brawl across the set that used very obvious stunt doubles to comedic effect.
  • Obviously Evil: Martin Shkreli's face is described thusly.
  • Only Sane Man: Often portrays John Kelly, Trump's White House Chief of Staff, as being this, at one point referring to him as "like that sticker on you meds that says 'Do Not Take With Alcohol'". He is also frequently ignored by the rest of the government.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: After Donald Trump's summit with Vladimir Putin, the surefire enthusiasm of Real News Tonight became Jim Anchorton and Jill Newslady awkwardly trying to pass the first word back and forth for the whole segment. Sunny Showers is dead.
  • Pandering to the Base: invoked Emulating (and mocking) Donald Trump's psychic gift for "predicting the predictable":
    Stephen: (reading a fortune cookie) Audiences will remain easy to pander to, especially in New York, the greatest city in the world!
    (cheering from New York audience)
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: When Helen Mirren greets Stephen with a kiss full on the mouth, he stands there staring while she continues walking to the chair. He might be playing it up a little to wait for the audience to quiet down, but he also appeared to be quite sincerely stunned. (Unfortunately, this inspired several subsequent guests to do the same thing, which resulted in him getting quite sick.)
  • Product Placement: According to Stephen, he has to shill various products on air due to a deal he made with an ancient god.
  • Promoted Fanboy: invoked Matthew McConaughey was an obsessive fan of Exit 57 a short-lived sketch series Stephen starred in from 1995 to 1996 and was ecstatic when Stephen managed to scrounge together a script for an old sketch and they got to perform it together. McConaughey watched and rewatched the show so much that he can still quote sketches off the top of his head decades later when the people who actually worked on it can't remember a thing.
  • Raised Catholic: Stephen, who also differs from many comedians in that he is still a practicing Catholic who in fact teaches Sunday school. He doesn't hide this and takes advantage of Pope Francis' visit to the USA to unleash a barrage of alarmingly clever Catholic jokesnote . As you do. (And then hosted an all-Catholic round-table discussion on issues of faith vs. social progressivism and the meaning of being an American Catholic in the present day. As you do.)
  • Retool: The show was barely six months old when it began to shift in tone. Beginning with the April 18, 2016 episode, Chris Licht (who formerly EP'd CBS's morning show) took over as executive producer and numerous changes were made:
    • The opening sequence was tightened by replacing the Cold Open entrance and monologue with a pre-recorded sketch to lead into the intro.
    • Around the same time, the house band, Stay Human, lost several members and the theme music was rearranged to become much more uptempo.
    • Licht's experience with news programming was meant to compliment Colbert's topical content, and he was instrumental in having the episodes during the 2016 Republican and Democratic conventions be broadcast live — said episodes cranked the focus on news comedy back to near-Daily Show levels.
    • A few other changes from the convention episodes, including new graphics and a refresh to the intro, were carried over into the following week's shows.
  • Running Gag:
    • Much like Report, the 2016 primary candidates are shown as a wall of portraits taking up most of the screen (and Donald Trump as a similarly gigantic angry head). At one point, Stephen even hides a picture of J. K. Simmons in the crowd shot, just for fun.
    • Also like the Report, Stephen introducing people in this fashion: [Occupation] [Joke about appearance] [Name] such as "Breitbart News chief, and lesbian haircut model, Steve Bannon..."
    • "Speaking of [something unpleasant]: Donald Trump."
    • Sometimes, after the audience cheers for a joke with a certain target, Stephen will say, "Lot of [target] fans here tonight."
    • Using a clip of Dana Freeling screaming "WHAT'S HAPPENIIIING?!" as a shorthand for the general public's reaction to Trump's campaign.
    • Whenever a guest is promoting some kind of health or beauty product, Stephen will usually try to put it in his mouth thinking it's some kind of pill or mouth wash, prompting the guest to say something like, "You're not supposed to put that in your mouth!"
    • Whenever the president or anyone in the Republican administration does anything egregiously stupid, incompetent or dishonest, and then, by way of follow-up, makes the problem much worse by blatantly lying that it didn't happen, or fumblingly attempt to distract attention away from it by changing the subject, or by issuing a storm of angry tweets about something else, Stephen will first describe the initial incident, then say that the White House has done whatever any other administration would normally do in response (issue a formal apology, announce an investigation, fire the relevant person, etc.), then smile at the audience for a moment, then say "...I'm just kidding," and go on to describe what they actually did. In Trump's case, it is usually preceded with "He tweeted about it", then cue stupid Tweet in a lemony Trump impression voice.
    • If a guest comes from a large family like Stephen, he, especially if the guest is also Catholic, will often challenge them to see who can recite the long list of sibling names fastest.
    • Stephen assumes there's a disturbing twist to something as the camera snaps to his face, then wiggling his eyebrows dramatically set to a Scare Chord, a holdover gag from The Colbert Report.
    • Stephen finding excuses to drink alcohol during "Midnight Confessions". Or dabble in other forms of vice.
    • Making jokes about Donald Trump's tiny hands.
    • Almost Once an Episode because it's such a joke gold mine: Stephen re-reading Donald Trump's latest and zaniest tweets with a lemony impression of him, with special emphasis every time he includes the phrase "FAKE NEWS" or anything in brackets (widely believed to be a tell that Trump added that himself).
      • Also; pronouncing each period in said tweets in the same voice, "...Dot dot dot...". And always getting the number right. It's harder than it looks.
    • Cartoon versions of famous individuals showing up for interview, including Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and the Ghosts of Abe Lincoln and Richard Nixon.
    • Any time a religious issue creates a stir, chances are really good that Stephen will start contemplating what God would think of it, then God himself will announce himself with a booming voice, then show up on the theater's stain glass ceiling skylight monitor and provide his two cents in a very casual manner.
    • Stephen making jokes about "COVFEFE" or the "pee-pee tape".
    • If the audience applauds a joke he makes about something controversial, criminal, or otherwise not typically the subject of applause (say, tax fraud), Stephen will frequently respond with something like, "Big tax fraud fans here tonight."
    • One lesser-used one involves Stephen taking an old-fashioned calculator that's got a receipt printing function (which clearly isn't working) and then hammering away on the buttons to depict the complicated calculations leading up to his punchline.
    • Colbert's interviews with "Melania Trump" (Laura Benanti), who is always trying to run away (one segment jokes that her Secret Service name is "Flight Risk").
      Melania: Hey! Hey! Ha! Up high!
      Colbert: I can't high five you over the satellite...
    • The only time Colbert makes any effort to cover his own ass, by ending certain controversial comments with "Allegedly!"
    • Whenever the ongoing saga between Trump and Stormy Daniels is in the news Colbert reacts with glee to bringing us Stormy Watch where he dances and plays a flute or guitar as adult film music plays.
    • The migrant caravan. For anyone who blinked and missed this in the days leading up to the 2018 midterm elections: Trump, Republicans, Fox News, etc. treated a caravan of refugees in Mexico as the number one threat to America, constantly harping on what a danger it is. Pretty much daily Colbert would mock this doing a snake dance and twirling to this choice tune.
    • In the buildup to the 2020 presidential election, Stephen would roll out a collage of all of the Democratic hopefuls, which have grown so numerous that he also sneaks in the face of some random unrelated character amongst them, leading up to him pointing it out. This is actually inverted one time when he shows off the collage and points out how one John Delaney is completely unfamiliar to him, before replacing him with John Mulaney.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Stephen, with his nicely tailored suits, and Jon Batiste, with his flashier attire.
  • Shave and a Haircut: Jon Batiste sometimes plays a G-major variant as a Sting to a Pun from Colbert.
  • Shooting Superman: Or, shooting Power Man — bringing up a comic book cover of Power Man, Colbert reads the villain's dialogue as "Steeplejack", and the actor who now plays the superhero at hand reads Cage's retort in a very smooth, unruffled voice, because... as far as big "super" battles go, he's shooting him with a dang rivet gun; he doesn't really seem like he should be in danger.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Side-Effects Include...: Parodied in a sketch portraying a commercial for the show itself but in the style of ads for erectile dysfunction drugs. Among the side effects are Hogwarts, upper respiratory failure, lower respiratory failure, and respiratory failure. "If your Late Show lasts longer than 1 hour, you're watching James Corden."
  • Special Edition Title:
    • One episode following the 2016 terrorist attack in Paris featured a special version of the standard intro, but with the scenes in New York replaced with similar imagery of Paris.
    • The July 2017 week featuring his trip to Russia features an intro "hacked" by Glorious Mother Russia, complete with a faster version of the normal theme tune in a Russian folk style.
  • Spin-Off: The "Cartoon Donald Trump" sketches were spun off into a full animated series for Showtime, Our Cartoon President.
  • Spiritual Successor: To both The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The show preserves a lot of the style of Colbert's previous show, albeit with Colbert being himself instead of playing a character. Jon Stewart also serves as executive producer, as he did for the Report.
  • Spit Take: Both Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report Stephen do this upon finding out about Donald Trump's 2016 GOP nomination.
  • Stock Footage: Steven is very fond of using a picture of Donald Trump taken with his mouth wide open into a full "O" during mid-lip-flap whenever he thinks the man is being a blowhard.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: After Viacom forbade the use of the "character" Colbert from The Colbert Report, his "identical twin cousin", also named Stephen Colbert, was introduced, complete with a Suspiciously Specific Denial every time he appears that he is not the same person. Even though he wears the same patriotic "C" badge on his lapel and a red wristband that he likes to flick into the audience, not unlike a certain Stephen we all know and love that is currently jamming with Alex Trebek.
  • Take That!:
    • Donald Trump has been a favorite target for Stephen.
      • In the pilot episode, he spent the entire first act ripping on Trump whilst eating Oreos. In a Deleted Scene from his interview with Jeb Bush that same evening, they both make fun of Trump.
      • During his September 11, 2015 interview with Stephen King, the two men spin a hypothetical horror story involving a boogeyman with bad hair and orange skin.
      • On September 24th, 2015 Don Henley name dropped Trump twice while performing a song called "Too Much Pride", and the following night's musical guest, an up-and-coming artist named Raury, wore a Mexico jersey with Trump's name crossed out on the back.
      • On September 30, 2015, Stephen "apologized" for going a whole 30 seconds into the show without mocking Trump. And then proceeded to mock Trump.
      • On October 29, 2015, after the CNBC Republican debate, Stephen forewent bashing Trump in favor of bashing everybody (including Trump).
      • Shortly after Trump unveiled his plans for completely banning Muslims from the United States on December 10, 2015, Stephen outright refused to joke about it or insult him, because even discussing how offensive it was would just be giving Trump the free airtime he wanted; instead, he let Trump's fellow politicians speak for him.
      Stephen: I would rather not give him more [publicity], and simply say that I agree with this bipartisan message from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter.
      Graham: Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.
      Nutter: He's an assh**e.
      Stephen: (Shrugging) Donald, I didn't think it was possible anymore, but you have brought a nation together.
    • Trump, naturally, isn't the sole target of his mockery; just look at the page quote for another example.
    • After Bill Clinton declared in a convention speech that Republicans had been criticizing a "cartoon" version of Hillary Clinton, Colbert followed suit and introduced "Cartoon Hillary Clinton".
  • This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: When relating the story of a man in Turkey facing jail time for comparing Erdogan to Gollum in a Facebook meme, and Peter Jackson stating that all of the pictures used were of the benign Smeagol, Stephen realizes he has to weigh in — after all, who else could effectively argue for the defense but the man Jackson himself called the biggest Tolkien geek he'd ever met, and who regularly stumped the consulting Tolkien scholar in trivia contests on the set of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug? In the end, doing his best Gregory Peck, Stephen delivers a rousing speech that shames the prosecutors for assuming the worst of not only Bilgan Ciftci but of an innocent, corrupted hobbit.
    Stephen: In the name of Eru Ilúvatar... do your duty.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Stephen Colbert LOVES his Oreo cookies.
  • Trash the Set: The interior of the Ed Sullivan Theater was completely ripped out within hours of Letterman's final taping. Many months were spent restoring some of the theater's original features, including the refurbishment of the theater's dome and stained glass chandelier (hidden away by sound dampening material during Letterman's run) and the reinstallation of the theater's original stained glass windows.
  • The Unapologetic: After calling Donald Trump's mouth Vladimir Putin's "cock holster" (see the entry under CMOA for the full context), Stephen had to deal with angry protests from the left and right. He went on air the next night, apologized for his poor choice of words, reaffirmed his support for the LGBT community, and then proceeded to lay more fire down on Trump.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Certainly to more of an extent than most talk shows, anyway; Stephen makes geeky and otherwise fairly obscure allusions in his comedy and tends to assume that his audience is familiar with recent political developments, government procedures, and historical events. While he has the usual rota of celebrities promoting their latest films, he's rarely content to stick to the usual talking points, and the celebrity guests are mixed with less famous but very influential political figures, high-level business folk, artists, and academics.
  • Viewers Are Morons: Even when they're satirizing something that was dominating that day's news cycle, the Cold Open sketches usually begin with a clip from a network news broadcast about the subject, which sometimes seems like explaining the joke before you tell it. To be fair, this may also be to provide context when the episodes are re-run at a later date, or for people watching them on YouTube months later. As you do.
  • We Interrupt This Program: Parodied during the 2018 midterms live episode: Colbert warns that the show could be interrupted at any moment by CBS News if there was any major breaking news related to the election results. Cue a news update a few minutes later, with Scott Bakula (in-character as his NCIS: New Orleans character Dwayne Pride) on the status of southern Louisiana (a lot of bloodshed). Later on, the show is interrupted by a similar report, this time from New York by Donnie Wahlberg, and with an emphasis on the blood being blue.
  • Wheel of Decisions: The Wheel of News, "installed" on the theater ceiling.
  • Writing Around Trademarks:
    • Stephen takes a shot at Olympic entities for forbidding people from using various logos and phrases.
      • He can't show the Olympic rings, so he instead shows five CBS logos colored and positioned in a manner similar to the rings.
      • Team USA said people can't use trademarks in hashtags like #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA, so he introduces the new sponsor Musa Tea (stylized as TEA MUSA).
      • The tea comes a daily serving of riboflavin, oxygen (or O2), 0 fat, and 16 other essential nutrients.
      • Under each cap is a tiny picture of an arm or leg. Stephen encourages everyone to trade them as part of a limb pic game.
    • This Cold Open has a square-jawed intrepid journalist who witnesses a massive crisis and immediately seeks out a phone booth (and Scott Pruitt happens to have a nice soundproof one). At no point do we ever hear the name Clark Kent or Superman.
  • With Lyrics: A cold open sketch with Chris Martin had him coming up with "lyrics" (actually a scat) to the show's theme song. After being declared a "f***ing genius", Chris performs his "lyrics" over the actual intro.
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