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Series / The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

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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."

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. Colbert hosts from 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. He is currently joined on stage by Louis Cato and the Late Show Band, who occasionally take part in sketches and musical numbers. Prior to this, music was provided by Jon Batiste and Stay Humannote .

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. So far, the approach has returned great dividends: since the election of Donald Trump, Late Show has been one of the highest rated shows in late night television.

Tropes associated with The Late Show with Stephen Colbert include:

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  • 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, who at the time was receiving coverage for having grown facial hair, 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.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • In "A Very Special Council Christmas", Santa and Robert Muller find evidence of Trump's "Pee-Pee Tape", so they decide to leak it to the public. Santa chuckles at the pun.
    • In Februrary 2023, Stephen has made no illusions of his disdain for former-President Trump for his many policy choices and actions leading up to and on January 6, 2021. That said, when Trump calls Florida Governer, and potential political rival for the 2024 Republican nomination for President, Ron DeSantis "Meatball Ron," Stephen finds it a great insulting nickname. Stephen particularly likes how he can insert the name into Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" to make a parody son against DeSantis. He even tells Trump on a show to keep with it when there is speculation Trump might move to a new insult as Stephen finds "Meatball Ron" perfect.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Zig-Zagged with the Bumble, who started out as a villain in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer before making a Heel–Face Turn. He's depicted as an outright villain here, refusing to follow Santa's mask mandate, and helping Mitch McConnell invade the North Pole and stealing the sack of gifts so Trump could get reelected. He stays as a bad guy during "A Conspiracy Carol", helping to storm the Capitol.
  • An Aesop: Both "Once Upon Impeachment" and "A Conspiracy Carol" ends with Santa delivering a lesson that looking for the worst in people is poor way to go about living, and that we can only do better when we start looking for the good in people.
  • Affectionate Parody: A whole segment parodying The Twilight Zone (1959), in which Stephen introduces three scenes that are just the twist endings of three "unaired" Twilight Zone segments.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Sean Astin made a point of walking out on camera in his underwear to embarrass his daughter, who'd begged him not to do anything to shame the family.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: The entirety of the holiday specials have Santa and his allies give a smackdown to the Republicans who swiped their Christmas.
  • 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.
  • Argentina Is Nazi Land: Commented on Donald Trump complaining about his poll numbers in another country, Germany, where Colbert added that Trump was popular among Germans who were from South America and always have been.
  • Badass Santa: The animated Santa Claus from the show's holiday specials is one, who fought in Vietnam and was responsible for killing Osama Bin Laden. Mrs. Claus ain't no slouch herself, opening a can of Christmas Whoopass on the Capitol Rioters.
  • 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.
  • Beyond the Impossible: "Twas the Coup Before Christmas" had Joe Biden visit the North Pole via a magical Christmas Train. Santa explicitly points this out by claiming it only appears in the imaginations of children—and yet somehow Biden managed to get the train schedule for it. Later, he uses it to pull Santa's sleigh when the taking of Santa's sack causes the reindeer to vanish.
  • 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 .)
  • Big Bad: For each of the holiday specials.
    • Donald Trump for "A Very Special Council Christmas", "Once Upon Impeachment", and "Twas the Coup Before Christmas".
    • Rick Claus for "A Very Special Council Christmas", with a secondary antagonist role in "A Conspiracy Carol".
    • Rudy Giuliani in "Once Upon Impeachment", with a minor villain role in "Twas the Coup Before Christmas".
    • Former Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in "Twas the Coup Before Christmas".
    • Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-GA) in "A Conspiracy Carol".
    • Vladimir Putin in "A Very Cold War Christmas".
  • 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.
    • Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has also been on the show a couple of times, and has spoken lines in unsubtitled Spanish to 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.
    • After CBS and Viacom merged, the new corporate entity went through years of restructuring and name changes. Stephen got a lot of mileage out of mangling the various names the corporation rebranded as before it settled on Paramount Global and how confusing the constant e-mail domain changes were to employees. Also, if he ever has to mention Paramount+ on camera, he plugs it as if someone has a gun to his head.
  • 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 (as his last name recalls the line "Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?" from the song) 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.
  • Boring Broadcaster: The show loves to poke fun at C-SPAN for being a walking stereotype, with dull broadcasts of congressional sessions and very little levity outside of the occasional prank call. A cold open sketch even introduced C-SPAN3 as "the channel you find by sitting on your remote."
  • 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.
    • The December 18, 2019 monologue opens with Stephen offhandedly mentioning he needs to finish quickly as he has snickerdoodles in the oven, and proceeds onward with the news. At the end, a ding is heard, and Stephen says that the snickerdoodles are finished, pulling a tray out from under his desk.
    • In "A Conspiracy Carol", the Elf on the Shelf from Maine mentions a lobster after he finishes delivering the Naughty and Nice report for the state. During the credits, he's seen eating a candy-cane colored one. Likewise, when Ted Cruz is seen riling up Scroogeanon, Santa mentions all Ted wanted for Christmas was porn and soup. He gets both during the credits.
  • The Bus Came Back: After disappearing from the holiday specials following "A Very Special Council Christmas", Rick Claus, Santa's temporary replacement, returns as a minor villain in "A Conspiracy Carol".
  • Call-Back:
    • Stephen opens his first show by saying "Hello Nation!", still gives stage directions to Jimmynote , hasn't lost touch with Mr. Hand Under the Desk, and still likes his Flowery Insults.
    • While discussing the conspiracy theories surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton's health, Stephen takes a moment to note that it must be incredibly strenuous to run for President. "After all, I should know."
  • "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.
  • Cigar Chomper: Puts up an image of Rudy Giuliani receiving a text about his pre-chomped "Goon Cigar", and Donald Trump going between telling him what not to say and asking if they're in yet for himself.
  • Colbert Bump: Invoked with the #ColbertSmallBizBump during Super Bowl LIV. The show put together an ad for Foggy Pine Books, a small-town bookstore, featuring narration by Sam Elliott and an endorsement by Tom Hanks. This resulted in the store seeing sales triple in the months afterward.
  • 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.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: At Trump saying he's met with "good people" and "bad people" after canceling a secret meeting with the Taliban, Stephen Colbert adds, doing his "Trump" voice, "...and I can't tell them apart," then asks for a color-coding system "Besides the one" he already uses.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: "A Conspiracy Carol" features one in the form of Scroogeanon, a parody of Qanon, who protest Santa's certification of the Naughty and Nice List for never getting any Christmas presents. The entire song, "A Jingle Conspiracy" rattles off Scroogeanon's beliefs that Santa is a lizard man (with the special having Marjorie Taylor-Greene claiming he's really Satan), and that "Bigfoot's ghost laid 5G eggs inside Mick Jagger's head".
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Parodied in the recurring "Big Questions With Even Bigger Stars" segments.
  • 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.
  • Couch Gag: The animated donkey used to present the "Doin' It Donkey Style" section uses a different phrase each time the segment is introduced, as stated below.
  • *Cough* Snark *Cough*: The "Doin' It Donkey Style" segment is announced by having an animated donkey yelling out a specific Democrat talking point disguised as donkey noises.
  • Creepy Monotone: Played for Laughs, of course, but occasionally he's shifted to acting like a supervillain, dramatically 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.
    • Concerning CDC advice about COVID-19: "AVOID CROWDS! AVOID CROWDS! AVOID CROWDS!"
  • 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.
  • Defictionalization: Invoked when Colbert realizes that Lara Trump's "Real News Update" is pretty much a defictionalization of his "Real News Tonight" sketch (a blatantly pro-Trump newscast): his producers splice in clips of "Real News Update" into said sketch to make her its new correspondent.
  • 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!

  • #EngineeredHashtag: #HeWhoShallBeNamed, which Stephen uses to collect funny nicknames for Donald Trump.
  • 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.
    • The pilot began with a monologue mocking then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Just the beginning of monologues dedicated to mocking Trump, albeit unintentionally since nobody knew he'd eventually become president.
  • 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'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!
  • Filler: The show pretapes the "Colbert Questionert" with notable guests and uses them in shows that dont' have enough material to fill out the hour.
  • 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.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: To cover for the 2018 Thanksgiving break, the show aired a pre-taped episode where the guests sat behind the desk and interviewed Stephen.
  • 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 laughing on camera. Newer gag subs such as the Mexico elf story on Feb. 27, 2023 also use a female narrator speaking over who's being subtitled.
  • 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.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: Colbert has made this comment when...
    • Donald Trump expresses certainty that refugees from Australian offshore detention centers are bad people who will not get jobs with the "Local Milk People".
    • When people write to him, Neil deGrasse Tyson hopes to share some "astrophysic... some Cosmic Perspective Luminosity".
    • News about a subset of New York City police representing a third of fatal shootings are counted by Colbert as less "a few bad apples" than an "Orchard of Destruction".
  • 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 ("Evie"). 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". She eventually reappeared after the show began being presented from a smaller set (a replica of Stephen's own personal office) within the Ed Sullivan Theater's office tower due to the COVID-19 Pandemic as his only audience (barring the crew), where she can be always be heard happily laughing at her husband's jokes and is sometimes seen on camera! After the show resumed normal taping in 2021 she continued making appearances, to the extreme pleasure of just about everybody.
  • 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.
    • In another skit, 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).
  • Holiday Pardon: The 2019 animated Christmas Special has Santa Claus forgive Rudy Giuliani for stealing the Naughty & Nice List and read an entry from the nice list that describes Rudy as an inspiration during September 2001.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Stephen (who is straight) sometimes makes jokes about how hot various men (e.g. Cristiano Ronaldo, Catholic priests) are, often accompanied by Squee-ing from female audience members. Justified, as making similar jokes about women would not go over well with viewers.
  • How the Character Stole Christmas: Since Trump took office, Stephen's team created animated skits showing the former-President or one of his allies stealing Christmas in some way, combined with Ripped from the Headlines based on the various scandals his administration faced.
    • "A Very Special Council Christmas" has Trump fire Santa, and put one of his supporters named Rick in charge of Christmas so he can construct his border wall. It takes the interference of Special Council Robert Muller (who was investigating Trump for allegations of collusion with Russia at the time) and teaming up with the Drunk on Milk Santa to get his job back.
    • "Once Upon Impeachment" references Trump's first impeachment trial, where he refuses to deliver plutonium to the North Pole unless Santa gives him the Naughty and Nice list to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. When Congress launches an impeachment investigation and call on Santa to testify, Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani steals the list by threatening Frosty the Snowman's life, forcing Santa to travel down to Washington and fix things.
    • "Twas the Coup Before Christmas" mocked Trump's crying foul of losing the 2020 election by having then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell steal Santa's sack of gifts to "find" votes that would grant him reelection. With the aid of visiting then-President-Elect Joe Biden, Santa fights to take back the sack.
    • "A Conspiracy Carol", made after Trump's departure, takes a potshot at the January 6th Capitol rioters by making them Scroogeanon, protesting being put on the Naughty List, who then storms the Klaus of Representatives (with Rudolph at their side) during Santa's certification of the Naughty and Nice List, after prodding from Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.
  • 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.
  • "Just Joking" Justification: When President Trump said he was "kidding" about "building a wall in Colorado", plays a clip:
    "We're building a wall on the building a wall on the border of New Mexico! And we're building a wall in Colorado! We're building a beautiful wall! A big one, that really works!"
    "Yeah! That's how you know that he's kidding — because he said it really works! You know the old joke! Two peanuts were walking down the street, and one was assaulted! Really, brutally assaulted! He was almost a-murdered!"
    • He goes on to joke as a fellow comedian, that you preface all of your jokes with "kiddingly", and shows his prompter at that moment starting with (KIDDINGLY).
  • Just Here for the Free Snacks: On the grounds of existing shared access by the Republican party, Colbert characterizes the Republican storming of the closed-door impeachment hearing as:
    "What do we want?" "What we have!" "When do we want it?" "Already got it!" "Why are we here?" "I don't know! I heard there was pizza! I heard there was pizzaaa! There was pi— Soylent Green is people!..."
  • 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.
  • Loophole Abuse: If there's a loophole to be exploited, the show will abuse it with glee.
    • In one episode, Stephen was forced to censor an academic image of frogs mating despite the image itself not containing anything that could be considered profane or obscenenote . Stephen got back at the network's lawyers the next day by pointing out that he can show the image completely uncensored if he simply says that it's actually a picture of two frogs tandem skydiving.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Madness Mantra: Said a clip of Alex Jones resembled less a suitable parent than a "coked-out high school football coach in a police standoff". "WE WERE GOING TO STATE! WE WERE GOING TO STATE!" "Sir, get off the scoreboard." "WE WERE GOING TO STATE!"
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: If Stephen has a fellow Catholic on as a guest, he'll almost inevitably ask how many siblings they have, where they fall in that order, and compare that number with his own (he's the youngest of 11). He'll also challenge the guest to a name-off to see who can rattle off their siblings' names the fastest.
  • Meet My Good Friends Lefty and Righty: After President Joe Biden's answer to Republican governors who threatened to sue the federal government over COVID-19 vaccine mandates was "Have at it", Stephen decides to expand on the answer:
    Stephen: [imitating Biden] You got a problem with the mandate, you can stop by and meet my pals, [raises fists] Empathy and Public Service!
  • 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!
  • Mythology Gag: The show's temporary renaming to "A" Late Show with Stephen Colbert for at-home episodes in 2020 brings to mind the temporary re-titling of The Daily Show during the WGA strike (for episodes not using union writers) to A Daily Show with Jon Stewart (during that time, The Colbert Report was re-titled as The Colbert Report, but pronounced normally).
  • 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 

  • New Season, New Name: When Jon Batiste departed as the show's band leader and musical director, Stay Human remained behind with Louis Cato stepping into lead. With this change, the group ceased to be "Jon Batiste and Stay Human" and became "Louis Cato and the Late Show Band".
  • 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 Helping Your Case: Lampshaded by Santa in "A Conspiracy Carol" when Scroogeanon protests being put on the Naughty and Nice List while Santa's off to certify it. The fact they're throwing snowballs at him and claiming he's a lizard man just proves his point.
  • "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.
    • Done again when Stephen brawled with John Krasinski, although Shaky Cam obscured the doubles somewhat.
  • 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.
    • A positive example of this trope occurred in the monologue of the March 30, 2023 episode, after it was announced that Donald Trump had been indicted. Stephen said "DONALD J. TRUMP" on-air, as opposed to censoring his name like he did in every episode since the 2020 election.
  • Overly-Long Gag: The intro to "The Vax Scene" gets longer and more elaborate by the episode as syringes sing elaborate musical numbers. Stephen usually does something funny in the background to lampshade how long it's taking to the actual jokes.
  • 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)
  • Parent Never Came Back from the Store: After the withdrawal from Syria:
    Stephen: Trump fired back on his critics on Twitter: "We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters." Doesn't "being in the process of leaving" mean the same thing as "abandoning"? It's like a father saying, "I'm not abandoning you kids. I'm just in the process of leaving for a pack of cigarettes, and never coming back. You'll be fine! You're wonderful fighters." [walks]
  • Parody Assistance:
    • invoked In-Universe: The Hungry for Power Games sketches have Stephen dressed up as Caesar Flickerman. After the first few episodes with the sketch Stephen used the chance that he had Stanley Tucci (Caesar's actor) as a guest to ask him for pointers in how to play the character.
    • When Stephen went to New Zealand and shot a short film about Darrylgorn, Aragorn's hotter twin brother, Peter Jackson didn't just agree to appear. He made the set of Hobbiton available, provided Stephen with a doublet made for Viggo Mortensen's stunt double and the actual prop sword used by Ian McKellen, and brought in a good chunk of the production team from the Lord of the Rings films so Stephen's self-insert fan-fic would look authentic.
  • Persona Non Grata: After the 2020 election, any mention of Donald Trump has been completely banned from the show. This doesn't stop Stephen from mocking him, but he refuses to use his name or impersonate his voice any more; instead preferring to use derogatory nicknames, censor the name like a cuss word when it's displayed on screen, and when he must be quoted it's done by "someone with the same level of emotional maturity, a seven-year-old".
  • Poe's Law: Stephen admits to having been genuinely uncertain about whether a poster advertising the Hallmark movie A Shoe Addict's Christmas is a parody or not.
  • 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.)
  • Pretentious Pronunciation: 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. He once explains to a guest that it was actually his father's doing: James Colbert thought dropping the 't' made it sound more sophisticated.
  • 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.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Stephen had to shoot a string of shows from home. Like he did during 2007 WGA Strike, he slightly changed the name of his show to reflect the situation, choosing to go by "A Late Show''. When he was allowed to go back to work at the Ed Sullivan Theater, he chose to shoot episodes in a storage room (in a set made up to be a replica of his personal office in the building) and continue to go with "A Late Show" until the entire staff and crew could come back and they could start working in the studio again.
  • 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.
  • Rimshot: Joe Saylor, Stay Human's percussionist, will occasionally provide a rimshot when Stephen lands a punny punchline. Stephen will sometimes act indignant if Joe doesn't play a rimshot on a line Stephen thinks deserves one.
  • 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 (something controversial, criminal, or otherwise not typically the subject of applause), 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. It would later be repurposed recurringly for anything extremely confusing.
    • 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 former 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 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".
    • 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"). And Melania's lame pun celebrations (if Colbert hasn't started laughing before then, just wait...)
      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: 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 brought back his gag from the 2016 race: he would roll out a collage of all of the Democratic and Republican 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.
    • Following the 2020 election, in response to Donald Trump refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden's victory, Stephen declared that he would refuse to remember Trump's name. Every time Trump is mentioned after this, he is referred to as "the president" (and after he left office, "the former president") or given some degrading description, and any news articles shown on-screen have his name censored as if it were a swear. If he feels the need to quote Trump directly, he'll have it done by "someone with the same level of emotional maturity, a seven-year-old". note 
    • Whenever Stephen's monologue mentions the possibility of Trump going to prison, Jon Batiste plays the opening chords of "Jailhouse Rock."
    • When Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 made it the latest subject of constant mockery, Stephen often made fun of how little they have over there with the frequent punchline "Is potato."note 

  • The Scottish Trope: After Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, and in particular after Stephen broke down after Trump (as he had threatened to do before said election and the 2016 one) did not accept the results and claimed fraud without evidence, Stephen would make a point to outright stop mentioning Trump's name afterwards, only referring to him as only "the president" (and after he left office, "the former president") or by some mocking nickname. (This also had the side effect of Stephen dropping the Trump imitation voice he did whenever he read one of Trump's tweets, now reading them with his normal voice or having them read by a bratty seven-year-old.) Even the show's graphics, when citing a news article, would censor his name as if it were a swear word.
  • 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.
  • Ship Tease:
    • Melania Trump (Laura Benanti) constantly smouldering to the camera while Stephen interviews her and goading him into laughing could be seen as this.
    • It's not everyday that someone gets shipped with a sitting head of government, but that's what happened after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared on the show and she and Stephen became fast friends, most certainly thanks to their clearly good chemistry. It went to the point that Ardern invited Stephen (the famous Lord of the Rings fan) to New Zealand, which he gladly accepted as soon as he could.
  • 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: Considering Stephen's geekiness, these are bound to happen.
    • Jon Batiste is a huge video game nerd, so expect some of the songs played to come from Street Fighter II, Sonic the Hedgehog and Final Fantasy VII. The Legend of Zelda turned up in a fall 2019 show.
    • Once the US House announced an official impeachment inquiry against Trump, Stephen started announcing the latest impeachment news as a sub-segment titled "Don and the Giant Im-Peach" (complete with a cartoon banner of Trump getting into various mishaps involving a giant peach). When Trump was impeached again in January 2021 (the only president to be impeached twice) after being accused of inciting the 2021 storming of the Capitol, the segment was brought back with an additional shout-out, now being named Don and the Giant Im-Peach 2: Go Fast, We're Furious.
    • "Once Upon Impeachment" has a multitude of Grogu (or Baby Yoda, as he was known then) toys on the assembly line) Fred Rogers as the Spirit of Niceness who bestowed the Naughty and Nice List to Santa, Santa reclaims the Naughty and Nice list like Yoda (complete with his style of speech), and both Lindsey Graham and Rudy Giuliani end their lines with "I want to live, Clarence!" and "God bless us, everyone!" respectively.
    • "Twas the Coup Before Christmas" has Mitch McConnell dressed as Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark, which doubles so when Trump opens the sack of gifts, Santa warns Biden not to look at it, and it not only freezes the entire Republicans present, but it causes McConnell's face to melt. Him taking the sack causes the entirety of the North Pole's populous (sans Santa and a visiting Joe Biden) to turn to dust, like in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
    • "A Conspiracy Carol" changes Tumblr to Grinchblr, with Santa uttering "Son of a Grinch!" beforehand.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Often played with in his wife Evelyn's frequent appearances throughout the quarantine episodes.
  • 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, with the scenes of New York replaced with similar imagery of Paris.
    • The July 2017 week featuring his trip to Russia featured an intro "hacked" by Glorious Mother Russia, complete with a faster version of the normal theme tune in a Russian folk style.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Unlike David Letterman's incarnation, the show's title is "The Late Show" rather than just "Late Show". During the episodes filmed at his home or in the secondary studio due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the show was temporarily retitled "A Late Show with Stephen Colbert", homaging a similar change made by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart during the 2008 writers' strike (which had become A Daily Show with Jon Stewart).
  • 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.
  • Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome: After he was featured as a good guy in "Once Upon Impeachment", Rudolph joins Scroogeanon in "A Conspiracy Carol". Subverted when Marjorie Taylor-Greene tries to kill him.
  • 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.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: How "A Conspiracy Carol" ends. When a group of rioters storm the North Pole Capitol to stop the certification of the Naughty and Nice List, Santa scolds them for doing so, then goes into a speech where he reminds the audience that we need to believe the best in each other. Thus, he amends his process to give everyone a present that year...and then tells the rioters they're still going to jail. He may be willing to give the usual naughties a present this year because he believes we could be better, but they still tried to kill him and everyone there.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Each time Stephen addresses the audience with words like "This is a [Day of the Week] crowd! There's nothing like [Day of the Week] crowd, you can't fake it", it is a tell that it's actually NOT the [Day of the Week], and the episode was pre-taped before. This most often happens with Fridays. On multiple occasions, he has tricked the audience into applauding for this statement before "throwing them under the bus" and revealing the pre-tape.
  • 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.
      • In the March 14, 2016 episode, after revealing how Trump fell for a bogus scare video claiming that the protester who assaulted him was in ISIS, Stephen makes another video of an adorable "terrorist" cat in a towel turban getting a bath, set to "Streets of Cairo" (complete with a phony ISIS flag that just reads "Trump Dump Scaredy Cat Pee-Pee Poo-Poo Pants" backwards). Said kitty, incidentally, is a Persian.
      • invoked After at last throwing up his hands in April 2016 and declaring Trump had become a living cartoon beyond parody or mockery, he now semi-regularly interviews "Cartoon Donald Trump", a Flash-animated version of the mogul mo-capped in real time. In the Showtime special, this character gets his own fully-animated cartoon short in the form of a supervillain origin story.
      • After the Trump impeachment scandal broke in September 2019, Colbert introduced a new segment for covering him called Don and the Giant Impeach. He also made "Once Upon Impeachment", a Christmas Special which mocked Trump as well as his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. He dropped the segment after Trump was acquitted.
      • Followed in January 2021 by “Don and the Giant Impeach 2: Go Fast, We’re Furious.” Before this, "Twas the Coup Before Christmas" mocked Trump's refusal to accept losing the 2020 election.
    • 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".
    • "A Conspiracy Carol" is one to Ted Cruz, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, and Qanon, along with the participants of the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. There's also jabs towards Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ)note , Vladimir Putin, and Mark Zuckerberg in Freeze Frame Bonuses.
  • 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. For the transition to Colbert, 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.
  • Try to Fit That on a Business Card: When Donald Trump threatened Turkey in the context of "my great and unmatched wisdom", after a moment for the overall reaction, Stephen Colbert said he'd gone "full God-Emperor".
    It is I, Donald the Great, of Unmatched Wisdom of and Infinite Wives! Destroyer of Casinos, Conqueror of 10-Piece McNuggets, Scourge of Chrissy Teigen, defeated only once in Battle by my eternal Nemesis: Umbrella."
  • 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.
  • Very Special Episode: Whenever a tragic news event happens, Stephen's monologue will be noticeably more serious and less comedic, and will stay on one topic throughout the entire monologue. Examples of this include:
    • February 5, 2020, after Donald Trump's impeachment trial ended with an acquittal
    • August 15, 2021, after the fall of Kabul
    • February 24, 2022, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine
  • Video Call Fail: In one of the cold opens from December 2021, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin meet over Zoom, and do things like accidentally leaving themselves on mute or activating filters.
  • 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.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Stephen's final "A Late Show" in the converted storage closet ends with a montage of still shots with humorous captions about what the show's staff did afterward, including planning for a reunion that never happened.
  • 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.
  • You Are Not My Father: Lampshaded by Santa in "A Conspiracy Carol" when Rick Claus convinces Rudolph to join Scroogeanon by pointing this out. Given that Rudolph is a red-nosed reindeer and Santa is human, it was pretty obvious. Tragically Played Straight by Rudolph when he declares Facebook is his mother now.
  • YouTuber Apology Parody: Colbert makes fun of a video by Johnny Depp and Amber Heard where they apologized for sneaking their dogs past Australian customs. He then follows this up with his own apology to Australia, where he and an actress apologize for bringing an assortment of weirdly named fauna to Australia.


Donald Trump

In "Election Knight Rises", Donald Trump plays the part of The Joker.

How well does it match the trope?

2.83 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / PracticallyJoker

Media sources: