Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A shook Stephen Colbert gazes into the howling void that was last night’s debate shitshow

Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show

First off, apologies for the headline profanity there. Sure, CNN’s Dana Bash summed up the first 2020 presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden with exactly that term, but we here at The A.V. Club generally don’t go in for that sort of gutter talk. Plus, did you watch that shitshow? Stephen Colbert sure did, going live with an on-the-fly live response to said spectacle with a monologue cobbled together from equal parts mockery of a petulant, ranting, spittle-flinging Trump performance and PTSD from the stomach-churning spectacle of a sitting president not only refusing, point-blank, to disavow the white supremacists, thugs, and other gun-totin’ yahoos who’ve flocked to his reelection campaign (for some reason), but telling said neo-Nazi red-caps to “stand back and stand by.” Yeah, it was a shitshow.

Colbert started out by free-adapting Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” in a poetical lament to the abyss about what he’d just seen mere hours before. Saying, “I come to you tonight, ladies and gentlemen, an empty vessel,” Colbert rattled off, in rattled sorrow for an America in the hands of Donald-fucking-Trump, “I have stood in the swirling chaos of creation. I have seen Shiva dancing the destruction, wielding his trident carving great gouts out of the universe. The sky at once both red, blue, and black until all that remained was a starless void and the hollow husk once known as Chris Wallace.” To the Fox News moderator’s ultimately successful plan to remain “invisible” in his role, Colbert could only point to his beloved Lord Of The Rings for proof of that folly, showing a clip of a desperate Frodo using the One Ring, only to realize that in the cowering shadow is where a leering, interrupting Trump could see him even more clearly. “Yes, tonight saw the best minds of our generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn, looking for the mute button.”

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But Colbert, for his sins and his CBS contract, had to watch that 90-minute debacle of jabbering, hateful Trump nonsense, lies, and simmering psychosis, explaining that, unlike following your average hour-and-a-half poop, Colbert didn’t feel any relief afterwards. Maybe it was Trump steamrolling the proceedings by shouting over literally everything Biden said until even invisible man Wallace finally called him out on it. Or Trump repeating his global warming denialism by attributing the weenie roast that is the entire West Coast to inadequate raking. Or an unchallenged-by-Wallace Trump claiming that his maskless COVID-and-hate incubator rallies are always held outdoors (they’re not), and have shown no ill health effects. (“Herman Cain, your thoughts?,” asked Colbert, receiving no response.)

And sure, it was guilty fun to watch Democratic nominee and person not extruding untruths, authoritarian racism, and caked orange concealer from every pore, Joe Biden, finally have enough and call Trump a “clown,” right to Trump’s admittedly amateurish face paint. (Biden also didn’t lose any votes by channelling the nation’s collective frustration in exasperatedly telling a babbling Trump, “Would you just shut up, man.”) But Colbert, ultimately, wasn’t finding the humor in Trump’s open calls for white supremacist militias (which, again, seem all-in for Donald Trump, for some strange reason) to wait for his high sign. “I don’t support white supremacists, I just command them,” is how Colbert, slipping once more into his Trump voice, chillingly summed up Trump’s naked call for extrajudicial violence from roaming gangs of half-formed, knuckle-dragging, heavily-armed racists. Calling a president on a national debate stage giving orders to the cretinous white terrorists currently murdering protesters for social justice, “one of the most upsetting moments not only of the night, but of my lifetime,” Colbert shamed anyone (“Bad New York Times, bad!”), attempting to frame Trump’s debate performance as just a “clash of styles.”

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“Maybe go hang out there wearing your favorite brown shirt, and S.S. the situation,” Colbert translated Trump’s German Shepherd dog-whistle for his supporters to invade Election Day polling places. As Colbert concluded his rundown of this “soul-pulverizing menace” of a performance from Trump, he laid things out in terms as stark as they get. “Ultimately, I think the American people, they were hurt tonight,” stated Colbert right to his Late Show camera, “and, if you look online, they’re angry. Because this is a serious moment, where human lives and the future of this irreplaceable country is on the line.” What a goddamned shitshow.

For Colbert’s own effort to inform voters of their rights, their states’ registration and absentee ballot requirements, and presumably survival tips, go to Better Know A Ballot. Just to be safe, Vote.org and FairFight.com also have your back, voting-wise.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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