Platon for TIME
Stephen Colbert's upcoming gig as host of The Late Show certainly won't be the first time we've seen the comedian's face on television, but it's just the beginning of our introduction to the "real Stephen Colbert."
"We've got a series of field pieces, packages that are ways for me to try to figure out who that is, as if I don't know who I am," the 51-year-old talk show host, who appeared in character on The Colbert Report for 10 seasons, tells Time magazine. "The unexamined life can be extremely enjoyable, and who knows if I do know who I am. We're going to see whether I do...We're doing a series called 'Who Am Me?'"
Colbert covers the latest issue of Time magazine appearing stone-faced in the black and white cover shot alongside text which reads "Colbert...like you've never seen him." Inside the publication, Colbert dishes on a variety of topics, including his upbringing, his forthcoming takeover for David Lettermanas well as his passion for comedy ahead of his CBS debut on Sept. 8.
Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS
"I still enjoyed it, but to model behavior, you have to consume that behavior on a regular basis," Colbert says of why he was ready to bid farewell to The Colbert Report. "It became very hard to watch punditry of any kind, of whatever political stripe. I wouldn't want anybody to mistake my comedy for engagement in punditry itself. And to change that expectation from an audience, or to change that need for me to be steeped in cable news and punditry, I had to actually leave. I had to change."
While Colbert may not be in character on The Late Show, he says it will still resemble The Colbert Report in many ways.
"You have to be willing to do everything you know how to do. [Johnny] Carson said it to Jay [Leno], who said it to Conan [O'Brien], who said it to me. These shows require everything you know how to do," he explains. "So the idea that there are things that we did over there that we wouldn't do at the new space, I think, is an unrealistic approach to the need. And whether it fits is a discovery to be made, not a philosophical exercise to engage in before you do it. It's athletic, not intellectual."
Although Colbert has big shoes to fill (Letterman hosted the popular show for over 20 years), he does have a smart plan for production.
"You have to basically sift through what you like and what you don't like about performing, or what you really enjoy about your relationship with an audience," he says. "I have to give myself the patience to literally use my imagination and go—when I close my eyes—what would I enjoy seeing as a consumer? I don't mean that as like market testing consumer, I'm literally a fan of comedy. What do I want to see on TV?"
He also received advice from the legendary talk show titan. "We had a very lovely evening. He met me in his offices. He had a bottle of water and he answered questions," Colbert shares of his predecessor. "He was very nice about it. He just answered questions for about an hour and a half for me, and it was two guys with similar jobs talking shop. It was entirely pleasant, and he was very gracious to me. At the end of the night he showed me how to run the freight elevator and that was it…it was like being handed the keys to a car and someone just saying, "Let me show you how to use the clutch—it sticks." It was beautiful."
Colbert, who is the youngest of 11 siblings, also reveals how he first got into comedy and why he doesn't like doing standup:
"I wanted to be an actor and discovered improvisation in Chicago through a friend who [invited me] to go see this thing called The Herald Improv," he recalls. "I saw it and I was immediately like, I want to do this. That was performance, scene work, ensemble, character. I've done things that are like standup since then. There's a quality to any of the shows that has a standup component to it, and I admire standups, but I actually like playing with people. I find being onstage with just me and my jokes, the mic and audience is a lonely business. I don't think I could have lived on the road like that."
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert debuts on CBS on Sept. 8