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Stephen Colbert reveals 'Late Show' changes

The new host of

The new host of "Late Show" met the press -- but did not actually salute. Photo Credit: AP / Charles Sykes

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Chatty, funny, discursive and even a little twitchy -- "I think that's what the doctor calls it," he joked -- the next host of the "Late Show," Stephen Colbert, met with the assembled press at the Television Critics Association tour for the first time late Monday.

The take-away: The out-of-character Colbert -- the one who will actually host the CBS program -- sounds like someone who has this big new job figured out, with some qualifications.

(Just how chatty, twitchy and discursive?  Scroll down to read more quotes from the new host of "Late Show)...

Anxious to get on the air (the new show premieres Sept. 8), Colbert, 51, said, "I've had too much time in the simulator [and] need to get in the jet." He added, "I don't like comedy in theory -- that's the theology, I want to get to the religion. I want to hear the laughter. The anxiety I feel is the eagerness to get on the stage."

Asked (of course) about changes he planned to make to a format that's almost as stable as Mount Rushmore -- monologue, comedy bit, first guest, etc. -- he said: "The order of the guests' [appearances], and when the comedy appears will be something we discover as we go along."

The first guest, he confirmed, will be George Clooney, then added that Kendrick Lamar will be first musical guest.

CBS, he said, had made no suggestions about the new show in terms of content or format: The network "asked nothing of me other than I fill an hour [at 11:35 p.m.] Monday through Friday . . . I love the grind of a daily show, and love the audience and love telling jokes. That's it. They've not asked me to change or do anything. They liked the show I used to do and asked, would you mind doing another 120 hours a year?"

Lost in the move to the Ed Sullivan Theater will be his old character -- that bumptious, bombastic, deeply self-pleased one, and star of "The Colbert Report."

"I had done everything I could with" him, said Colbert of his former character with the exception of one element: The old TV host had always had a genuine interest in his guests, and that won't change this time around.

"I want politicians of all stripes, intellectuals, writers, people in sports. If someone is not famous and can present themselves on camera, I thought that would be the perfect guest" too.

Colbert offered a few more details about what his new show will actually look like. The space -- to actually call it a "theater" doesn't seem quite right in its current state -- has been gutted, he said, leaving only some stonework that dates back to the original 1927 Hammerstein theater. When completed, the host desk will be exactly opposite from where David Letterman's desk had been positioned .

The idea, he said, is to create a space that's both more intimate than the old "Late Show," which suggests an actual theater: "This past week we moved into the offices about the Sullivan and our set is being built right now. It's been a two and a half month process [and] you couldn't tell it was a theater before but now you can I find it's a more intimate space because we're acknowledging that it is a theater..."

He said he had also spent some time with Letterman (who had suggested that the desk be moved): "We spent an hour and a half together -- had a couple of waters, the hard stuff, and at one point I asked him, do you mind me asking these questions and he said I don't mind at all -- no one's ever asked me those questions [because] who would know what to ask or care about the answers."

And as promised, some other observations/quotes by the next host of "Late Show"...

On his old, dearly departed character...

"if you're wondering who the real Stephen Colbert is, there's a super cut online of me laughing, me breaking character the entire time. That's me. I'm laughing at our jokes. What I do with the show is we do the show for each other all day, and it's my job and my privilege and my responsibility to translate to you, the audience at home, what we already did for each other. That guy who can't stop laughing, that's the real Stephen Colbert. I can't wait for him to be the only guy you see." 

On his perfect guest...

"Well, I'm a comedian, but I have to say very quickly that my favorite thing on the show became doing the interviews because I got into comedy, as I said before, through improvisation. And when we're doing the jokes, which I love writing, and I love producing, and I like doing them straight down the pipe I can only get those wrong, you know. I've been one of the composers of the music, and I might play the notes wrong. But when you're interviewing people, you don't know what's going to happen. That's much closer to how I learned my craft. And you can have big stars or important politicians or impressive thinkers, but it's sometimes the people you don't expect to impress you who can be your best guests. 

On that darned desk...

"One of the reasons I've moved the desk to the other side of the stage is I said [to Letterman], "Is there anything you would have changed? Now that we're changing the theater after 22 years in there, anything you would have changed?" He goes, "Uh, I would have liked to have tried the desk on the other side." So I went to work the next day, and I called my designer. I said, "I have terrible news. We're going to reverse the set" because I want to try that too. "

ON how he might conduct serious interviews...

"On the old show I wore the character as slightly as a cap, dependent upon who I was talking to. When I spoke to Cardinal Dolan or I would speak to a Medal of Honor winner, I would just dial it up and down as need be. I'm very interested in my guests, and I'm looking forward to being able to be sincerely interested in what they have to say without regard to having to translate it through an idiot's mouth. So if that leads to some serious conversations, I'd be very happy. We had them before on the last show, and the audience came with us. So I don't see any reason why it should stop. "

On why he did a podcast over the summer...

"The podcast we did was to answer the question "Who is Stephen Colbert?" It's just me, 20 minutes every week talking with my friends about the way we do the show. The guy you hear there is me not performing. That's just me hanging out. So it also scratched an itch. I learned how to do everything I know how to do by performing. I didn't become a writer by I became a writer because I was the only one who would write for me, you know. I became a director because I was the one who would cast me, and so I had to keep doing it because I would go crazy. This is the longest I've gone since I was 24 not performing in front of a live audience, and I am twitching, I think is the word the doctor calls it. I've had too much time in the simulator. I need to get in the jet."

On what he reads to prepare ...

"Well, I start off my day with "The Skim." Anybody get "The Skim"? Anybody from "The Skim" here? No? I start off with "The Skim." Look it up. And, then, I read I go on and read usually, in the old show, I'll read the politics page on "Reddit." I generally check the news subreddits. Then I'll read I'll probably hit "Drudge." Then I'll "The Huffington Post." Then I'll read the "New York Times," and, then, I'll watch, honest to God, "CBS This Morning," and I watch Dickerson on Sundays now because Jon is an old friend of mine.

On how his show will be different from his competitors...

"Everybody does a topical show to a certain degree. I think we are probably going to do that more than other people just because it's combed into our DNA after the last ten years. And that's one of the reasons why I'm really happy that we are starting on September 8th because the day after Labor Day back before things became insane -- was traditionally the start of the presidential campaign. That's why I wanted that day. And, now, I'm just hoping that certain people stay in the race until September 9th. I'm not going to name any names."

On what he really thinks about his old character...

"Not to get too erudite right now, but Oscar Wilde said something along the lines of "Do you want to see somebody's real face? Give them a mask." I was able to piggyback on the back of that character and be extremely intimate with the audience because I had the excuse that I didn't mean it, but I'm here to tell you I meant a lot of it. I even agreed with my character sometimes. But we tried to establish a really intimate relationship with the audience, and hope is that when you see me on the new show, you'll go, "Oh, wow. A lot of that was him the whole time." But I won't know how much of it is until I go do it, honest to God. It's an act of discovery for me, too. All I know is it's the same creative team. So I'm just as excited about the jokes. "

On Donald Trump...

"I just want to say that every little boy grows up believing that they could be President of the United States, and I'm so happy that that little boy is Donald Trump. I just hope he's taking his vitamins. Please stay healthy until I get on the air. Don't do anything dangerous. Don't ride any motorcycles, because every night before I go to bed, I light a candle and pray that he stays in the race, and I also pray that no one puts that candle anywhere near his hair."


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