The late-night beat has settled into something of a routine by this point in the pandemic. With virtually all movie and TV production responsibly but content-chokingly shut down, talk show interviews have become a virtual Zoom call of hosts asking idled celebrities to dredge up old anecdotes and hazy memories of pre-pandemic projects whose anticlimactic streaming releases still need contractually obligated hype, goddammit. Host monologues stretch longer to fill the time, with current event jokes working harder to fill the empty space where studio laughter should be.
Thank the TV gods for recurring bits, one supposes, although, on Monday’s Late Show, Stephen Colbert first sat—virtually—with bandleader Jon Batiste for a somber discussion of yet another caught-on-camera (white) police shooting of an unarmed (Black) man, with a visibly shaken Baptiste calling the police shooting of Jacob Blake (seven times, in front of his three children) yet another call for Americans to express outrage. “We have to call this out, and not let this become the norm,” expressed Baptiste from New Orleans, “This isn’t normal.” But, as frequent (and, thanks to cell phones, frequently documented) as police violence against Black Americans is, that’s not the regrettable, wrenching recurring segment anyone is looking for to make light of a horrific national nightmare.
Nope, that was up to frequent guest and person clearly having a more rewarding life being Melania Trump than Melania Trump, comedian Laura Benanti. Appearing once more as the Melania, Benanti—pursing and posing as her Trump relives her pre-pre-nup modeling glory days—expertly channeled the First Lady of “be careful what you wish for.” Noting that her big speech extolling the virtues of re-electing a man whose touch Colbert notes she obviously can’t stomach will be a full-throated defense of a former Vice President, guided by faith, etc., Colbert broke in to remind Trump that she’s doing it again. You know, since those were the exact words Michelle Obama uttered at the considerably less monochromatic Democratic National Convention last week—to which the First (virtual) Lady responded with Trump-ian excuses. (Since the actual former First Lady devastatingly repurposed Donald’s flip, “It is what it is”—in reference to the nearly 200,000 Americans dead from COVID on his watch—Melania was forced to remind Colbert that those were her original wedding vows to Donald Trump, so who’s the plagiarist this time?)
Moving on to the First Lady’s recent direction as to the renovation of a perfectly cheery White House Rose Garden into what—in inimitable Melania Trump decor style—might be described as the layout for a particularly stark Eastern European Vogue layout of brutalist dictator foliage, Colbert asked his guest what’s up there. “I used my own technique called “reverse Marie Kondo,” explained the not-First Lady, explaining to the not-getting-it Colbert that all those homely crabapple trees and colorful flowers from the previous Rose Garden just weren’t capturing her or the country’s joyless inner soul at this point in her husband’s presidency. Plus, they were all planted in disgusting dirt and stuff. Asked about having those Jackie Kennedy-planted apple trees chopped down, Melania referred back to the picture of George Washington over her shoulder in what was definitely the White House, and confessed, “I cannot tell a lie—I really don’t care, do you?” Colbert was a little alarmed that the First Lady was still wandering the White House wielding a hatchet, considering her repeatedly filmed visceral revulsion whenever her husband unexpectedly tries to touch her—but we’ll allow it.
The actual Melania Trump speaks tonight at the RNC—one of approximately 50 people named Trump to do so, since the Republican Party is all-in on this family political dynasty concept they couldn’t countenance when the last name was “Clinton.” If it’s just a dead-eyed recitation of the sentence, “Donald Trump is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life,” who’s going to be shocked, really?