If you sat through all 90-plus minutes of Donald Trump’s State Of The Union speech last night, you were likely required to attend, related to him, paid to analyze it, or just a really big fan of canned, performative applause breaks and pandering bigotry. Or a furiously scribbling writer for The Late Show, since Stephen Colbert had the bright idea to do his Tuesday show live, pretty much directly following the SOTU. And, sure, while some of the jokes could be written ahead of time (Trump’s teleprompter being helpfully fitted with a bouncing cheeseburger for maximum focus), Colbert and his team turned out some admirable work in fashioning a tight 15-minute comedy rebuttal.
“We are live,” began Colbert, “If you call what we just watched living,” kicking off a point-by-talking-point takedown of Trump’s rambling, fact-shy propaganda parade. Honestly, the only soul-safe way to experience that mess is in short clips followed by cathartically mean Colbert one-liners. You know, like following Trump’s go-to characterization of America’s “hottest economy in the world” with the impressionistic zinger, “If it wasn’t my economy, perhaps I’d be dating it.” (Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste got caught uproariously off-guard by that one.) Or an inevitable bone spurs reference upon Trump announcing that his latest summit with new dictator pal Kim Jong-un will take place in Vietnam. Or Colbert’s follow-up to Trump’s ill-defined promise to provide paid family leave so “every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child,” “Because, you know, some people are too busy to bond with their wife and newborn child. Instead, they’re forced to go to a vodka launch party and tag a porn star.”
But it wasn’t all well-targeted personal attacks at the adulterous, draft-dodging, daughter-fetishizing, despot-cuddling leader, as Colbert cut deeper into Trump’s recurring SOTU theme of outright threatening House Democrats for daring to use their constitutionally mandated authority to investigate whether, say, there’s a grifting Russian asset currently running things. Noting the wet fart of a response to what was no doubt planned to be Trump’s “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” (“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”), Colbert accurately and acidly compared it to those Monty Python mobsters threatening, “Nice country you got here, shame if something happened to it.” Staying with the whole nationally televised obstruction of justice Trump just delivered, Colbert, continuing as Trump, promised, “You get the truth or a functioning economy, okay? Keep in mind, I turned this sucker off for a month over a wall. You think I won’t burn this place down to stay out of jail?”
As rapidly aging hate-rocker Trump played his greatest hits for his shrinking audience of hard-core racists and toadying, power-grubbing Republican elected accomplices, so did Colbert, adding the perfect comedic chords to amplify the ugly absurdity. After Trump labeled illegal immigration as “cruel,” Colbert’s Trump augmented the point, adding, “I mean, not kids-in-cages cruel, but still pretty bad.” And if Colbert’s dissection of Donald Trump’s alternately threatening and weary litany of self-aggrandizing bullshit wasn’t as substantive as Stacey Abrams’ rousing Democratic response, it was at least free to puncture Trump’s windy lies and hypocrisy with some much-needed laughter.