“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” last week got its first (ever) Emmy nomination, and this week is plying late night Russian diplomacy, with vodka and a twist. That twist isn’t lime -- by the way -- but a twist of the knife.
There’s a link between that Emmy nod and so-called “Russia Week”: Colbert and his show remain on target, remain focused, and remain fixated on the one true thing that has brought viewers, revenue, success and potential Emmy glory. That thing -- you well know -- is the president, and rarely has a team been more productive in late night TV than this one. It’s Johnny and Ed, or Dave and Paul, although one of them isn’t laughing. Donald Trump is the sidekick, but hardly in the usual sense of the word but in the literal sense. He is of course a reluctant member of a team in which membership isn’t optional. Colbert has found his sweet spot-- doubtless a term he wouldn’t necessarily use -- and there’s no way he’s about to abandon it either.
For that reason, Russia Week is about Russia but only as refracted through every conceivable joke about a president and the first family. The jokes just don’t write themselves but deliver themselves. Only three words are required -- Trump, Russia, collusion -- and the punchline pretty much takes care of itself.
How inspired this week will ultimately become, or how tiresome, remains to be seen, but at least it started well Monday. (The field pieces were taped during a trip last month.) Colbert was a guest last night on a late night talk show that originates from Saint Petersburg, “Evening Urgant,” which is hosted by Ivan Urgant who looks like a late night composite of Judd Apatow and Jimmy Kimmel, although he explained that his show is tonally more like “Fallon than Jon Oliver.”
Colbert asked Urgant whether he was “an employee of the state.” Nodding in the affirmative, Colbert added, “we colluded that I’d be on the show and I look forward to testifying before the Senate subcommittee.” Next, they played something called “Russian Russian roulette,” with vodka and pickles (each of the glasses had vodka in it, or at least we are supposed to believe that).
Urgant kicked it off: “I’d like to toast to the wonderful country America ... which invented the internet and which can influence the outcome of presidential elections in the U.S. ...”
Colbert asked whether his show is seen in the United States.
Urgant: “Well, it depends. It is shown in the Trump Tower.”
Colbert had his toast: “To the beautiful and friendly Russian people. I don’t understand why no member of the Trump administration can remember meeting you.”
Colbert than declared his intention to think about running for the White House in 2020, and invited any viewer “who would like to work on my campaign in an unofficial capacity.”
With that setup, Urgant finished it off: “Good luck and we will do everything possible to help you become the future president of the United States.”
Amusing? Sure, but in a way that only late night TV (or its viewers) can understand, it was also reassuring. If you can’t laugh about this stuff on both sides of the Atlantic, then you’d better be prepared to cry.