The confusion between the character Stephen Colbert and the real Stephen Colbert perhaps got a little more confusing recently when the comedian dissed Amazon.com on “The Colbert Report.” With Amazon’s battle with publisher Hachette, book sales for Colbert’s books have been apparently delayed to a point where it’s likely causing Colbert real issues. It’s no surprise then that he held up two middle fingers for Amazon.com in a blistering segment that aired recently. And you have to wonder if Amazon is going to be hurt by this based on how many people are using “The Colbert Report” to get their news.
You also have to wonder what the extent of Colbert’s power really is since he hasn’t always demonstrated what he could get viewers to do. While it might be confusing to some people whether Colbert is being real about Amazon or just doing it in character, you have to assume it’s going to make some kind of difference and perhaps a change in the process. If something gets accomplished based on a Colbert segment, then he’ll finally realize he has considerable power going into CBS’s “Late Show” at some point next year.
If Colbert has more considerable power than he or the rest of us thought, it could easily turn him into a Johnny Carson figure where anything said can move mountains.
The History of Power in Late-Night TV
Anyone who’s studied the career arc of Johnny Carson knows just how influential he was without the aid of social media and just the power of millions tuning in to watch on TV every night. Already in the 1960s and into the ’70s, Carson did a number of things to influence fashion, compel people to take action, plus shift opinion on politicians. By the early 1970s, his influence was so strong on TV that a joke about a run on toilet paper persuaded people to go out and stock up on packages of the stuff. Some even think Carson’s persistent jokes about President Nixon during the Watergate scandal led to the public’s soured opinion on Nixon that led to his resignation 40 years ago.
It’s this kind of power that Colbert could truly have thanks to a decade being on another comedy show. You have to wonder if they have to accidentally realize their own power once they do a segment that turns the tide in getting something done or a strong public reaction. The real Colbert may not even realize how powerful he is, even if his character may already brazenly realize he can get anyone to jump off a bridge if he wanted to.
How that’s going to play out on “Late Show” in coming years could be an interesting ride, especially if he continues to explore issues and politics unlike Jimmy Fallon.
The Influence on Issues vs. Having a Late-Night Party
Once Colbert takes over David Letterman’s chair, it’s anyone’s guess what kind of topics Colbert will take on. Will it still deal with topics issues and politics as he has on “The Colbert Report?” If he does, the influence he holds might be even stronger in shaping how people feel about certain politicians and issues. That’s a considerable difference from Fallon on “The Tonight Show” who lives more to have a party rather than take on world issues in a satiric way.
It’s that contrast that may eventually divide up the demographics on those who want something more topical in late-night TV from those who just want to have games, impersonations, and general fun. The wide differences between the two might be misleading, though. Fallon probably has just as much power as Colbert, if perhaps even more. Because he chooses to stay away from politics, however, he may be designated the safe zone for politicians and other celebs who are sitting ducks for criticism.
We have to hope Colbert sticks with what he’s doing now, because he could end up changing a lot of things for the better. Sometimes all it takes is satire in order to send the strongest messages for the public to take action. Yes, this might mean perhaps Colbert not telling us exactly if he’s portraying himself or still in character as his persona on “The Colbert Report.” That might yield the greatest power of all when a fake conservative talk show host perhaps managed to get a late-night show and displayed his power in influencing politics, plus everything else.
We’ll have to wait and see which side of Colbert truly yields the greatest power so he can bring back the old retired title of King of Late Night.