Expectations and anticipation for Stephen Colbert’s first week were, let’s just say, astronomically high. Whenever a new host enters the late-night talk-show fray, they’re freighted with the burden of reinventing one of television’s stodgiest formats, and Colbert was no exception. And while his first three shows haven’t taken The Late Show too far from what it was when it was fronted by David Letterman, he did reinvent himself a little bit last night—with a big assist from “Diamond Joe” Biden.
The conversation between Vice President Biden and former fake presidential candidate Colbert is as candid as anything that’s appeared in late night in the past decade, a remarkable pop-culture moment that does more than show the vulnerability of the United States’ second-in-command. In his emotional honesty and willingness to memorialize his late son Beau on national TV, Biden uncovers the “real” Stephen Colbert, the elusive talk-show Bigfoot that critics and reporters have searched for since the moment Colbert announced he wouldn’t host The Late Show in his Colbert Report persona. Though it was cut down for broadcast, CBS has since made the complete interview available online, and it’s worth watching from beginning to end just for the rare opportunity of seeing two public figures—whose jobs require them to put on impenetrable fronts—having a chat like human beings who don’t have cameras trained on them all the time. The performances Colbert put on in his first three nights are reason enough to keep up with Late Show—that Oreo bit from the premiere is can’t-miss. But it’s stuff like this that points toward what will set the “real” Stephen Colbert’s Late Show apart from the competition.
UPDATE: Since The A.V. Club is made up of sympathetic souls who understand you might not have the time to watch/listen to a 20-minute late-night clip in the middle of the day, we’ve cut the broadcast version of the Colbert-Biden summit down to our favorite bits.
In the first, the host prefaces the interview by explaining the vice president’s mass appeal.
After the first commercial break, Biden gets real about how much power a vice president actually has.
Finally, a poignant anecdote about his late son leads to an amazing moment of self-awareness, as Biden realizes he’s referenced so many family sayings in the course of the interview, he could’ve easily covered the Ed Sullivan Theater in needlepointed samplers. Ever the gracious improviser, Colbert accepts the offer and adds one of his mother’s favorite aphorisms.