One of the biggest questions surrounding Stephen Colbert’s transition from his ironic alter ego (also named Stephen Colbert) on The Colbert Report to a more or less accurate representation of himself as the host of The Late Show was how his noted nice guy image would function in tough interviews. Stripped of its performative aspect, would Stephen Colbert lack the sharpness of “Stephen Colbert”’s off-kilter slyness in approaching adversarial guests? Well, Monday’s much-hyped appearance of former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci showed just how powerful a weapon sincere yet principled indignation can be in the real Colbert’s hands, as he parried the slick Scaramucci’s ingratiating attempts at both absolving himself of the ongoing “dumpster fire” of the Trump administration (as Colbert put it), and his own, shockingly brief and disastrous tenure therein.
Scaramucci, continuing his post-firing TV rounds in a likely attempt to rehabilitate his laughingstock personal and professional image, played up his “guy from Long Island” regular guy persona from the start—and Colbert let him know just as quickly that he wasn’t impressed. Seeing the affable Colbert shut down some prime Mooch misdirection with a firm “You’re not allowed to stop my show. I stop my show” was akin to watching your impatient father threaten, in no uncertain terms, to turn the car right around. Throughout, Colbert pressed Scaramucci both on the things Scaramucci famously said on the record to reporter Ryan Lizza about his distaste for (ever so brief) co-workers Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus (The Mooch is still no fan of either), and Donald Trump’s recent “cluster-munch,” as Colbert called it in his monologue, in failing to unequivocally denounce the white supremacists whose racist rally in Charlottesville over the weekend left a trail of dead and wounded.
Colbert, whose Monday monologue was an often stirring condemnation of both said Nazis and Trump’s watery remarks concerning said Nazis, kept pressuring Scaramucci to speculate on Trump’s reasoning, on whether Steve Bannon and others in the Trump administration are white supremacists themselves, and on why it took Trump two days to speak out against white supremacists. (Keeping with the Mooch’s widely derided tales of Trump’s athletic prowess, Colbert referred to Trump’s failure as choking on “a one-inch putt.”) For those looking for The Mooch to speak his mind more freely now that he’s out of a job, the interview was a mixed bag. He condemned racists much more forcefully than did his former boss, while blaming the press for triggering Trump’s “counter-intuitive thing with regards to the media” for his reticence to speak out against actual, torch-waving Nazis killing people. (“Just to throw it in their face?, was Colbert’s incredulous response.) Scaramucci (who appeared to rebuff Colbert’s handshake at the start of the interview), maintained that Trump should get credit for being “a compassionate person” and for giving up his former “luxurious lifestyle,” a pair of statements that Colbert simply wasn’t having, either. The host also pulled up short when Scaramucci playfully(?) joked twice about making an “Arya Stark” list (he likes Game Of Thrones references) of Colbert’s staff, Colbert indicating that he didn’t think the Mooch’s joke was all that funny. (If his no-nonsense “you just comedically threatened to kill people who work for me” is any indication.)
In the end, the two segments played out with less discomfort than perhaps expected, mainly because Scaramucci appears constitutionally immune to self-reflection. (Colbert also didn’t mention The Mooch’s personal life, which is also in shambles thanks to his Trump loyalty.) His “tell it like it is” tough guy persona—even leaving Colbert a gift of a stabbing knife inscribed with the host’s name—and his signature blend of bro-geniality and aggressiveness suggests that Scaramucci thinks this latest, record-setting humiliation is just a minor setback. Although the fact that he kept using non-standard English (“intolerated,” serving at “the duty of the president”) underscored another reason why The Mooch might not be best suited for another spokesperson gig. He got a few half-hearted cheers from the hostile Late Show crowd for taking a stronger stand against racism than did Trump (although that’s a low bar), and laughed off the intermittent boos as people chanting his nickname. To Colbert’s parting question of whether other fired Tump administration figures should come on The Late Show, The Mooch was enthusiastic in saying they should, perhaps not taking into account that others might not be so glibly adept at glad-handing someone who’s been mocking their feckless fealty to a president Colbert isn’t shy about calling a truly awful person.