On a day when ratings revealed that Stephen Colbert’s overtly political—if smartly silly—style has continued to vault him over his late-night competitors, the Late Show host unpacked a powerhouse of a show. The big story, taking up three entire segments, was Colbert’s much-hyped interview with former FBI Director James Comey. But first, and as hinted at by a backstage photo released earlier in the day, the Wu-Tang Clan was in the house. Well, Method Man and Ghostface Killah anyway, as the rap legends came out to take issue with Jeff Sessions—or Colbert’s Keebler cookie version thereof—bragging about having his wee racist paws on the only extant copy of the group’s 2015 album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. Meth brought the pain in response to cookie Sessions invoking the name of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard (“I knew Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Ol’ Dirty Bastard was a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Ol’ Dirty Bastard.”). Then he ate the little bastard, to the Late Show crowd’s great delight.
When Colbert invited Comey out for their Comey-sized interview (the guy’s 6 feet, 8 inches), he first brought out the red wine, in homage to the anecdote from Comey’s new book, A Higher Loyalty, about drinking pinot noir on the plane home after being fired by Donald Trump. Throughout their interview, Colbert pressed Comey both for details about the Trump-Russia investigation (that he knew Comey wouldn’t answer) and about his decisions in the days before the 2016 presidential election. (Colbert judiciously poured some more wine for his guest in response to Comey’s revelation that there are things he knows that he’s not going to tell, to no avail.)
Colbert’s interview style, as ever, combined slyly comical decency with a doggedness that forced Comey to consider his answers carefully. Colbert touched on both the overt and implied criticisms of Donald Trump in his book’s depiction of principled leadership, with the politic Comey yet betraying his obvious distaste for the current president. As to his fateful (and, it appears, unprecedented) decision to openly announce the reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email protocols in the days before the election, Comey fielded Colbert’s persistent prodding with an explanation as well-reasoned as it was, to Colbert, ultimately unsatisfying. To Comey’s statement that, faced with the same dilemma, he’d choose to do the same thing, Colbert accused the former FBI head of playing Pascal’s Wager with the country’s future. He also, more pointedly, advised that, should such a potentially disastrous choice present itself again, the proper hypothetical response is to “go back in time 70 years and kill baby Hitler—and then don’t release the emails.”
Playing a “lightning round” with their final segment, Colbert allowed himself to ask the good-naturedly uncomfortable Comey about the whole “pee-pee tape” situation. Comey appreciated Colbert’s first-hand insight into the actual room where the alleged sex worker watersports took place, as Colbert assured Comey that, indeed, the bedroom of the Moscow Ritz-Carlton Presidential Suite is big enough for germophobe Trump to stay out of “the splash zone.” He also asked Comey to explain the assertion he made to George Stephanopoulos that impeaching Trump’s (alleged) Russian-colluding ass isn’t the way to go. Comey again stated that were Trump (who he compared to a mob boss in both leadership style and bottomless, egomaniacal emptiness) to be impeached, it would rob the country of the reaffirmation of norms and ethics that a resounding election defeat would provide.
Asked by Colbert if that was an implicit criticism of the American voters for putting this “microwaved circus peanut that someone rubbed on a golden retriever” (Colbert’s words) in the White House, Comey admitted it was, partly. With the sort of fussily hopeful tone that marked his appearance, Comey concluded with a Trump-as-forest-fire metaphor, suggesting that what grows out of this unnatural disaster will be that much stronger. Which is one way around the fact that his actions helped light the country on fire in the first place.