On the day before Thanksgiving, New York City’s Ed Sullivan Theater was decked out in special decorations, complete with a fireplace projection on the back screen and fall-colored lights around the studio. After a few hours of waiting, I was finally seated for the day’s taping of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” The studio’s look told me it was going to be a special episode, and I was in for a fun hour-and-a-half.
At television tapings, before the audience sees anyone who’s actually on screen, a comedian comes out to “warm up” the group. At “The Late Show,” Paul Mecurio got the spectators cheering and laughing. He achieves these two tasks in different ways: telling the crowd to yell and cheer (“I want you to be LOUD!”), and by making fun of individual studio viewers. I’ve seen Mecurio before tapings of “The Daily Show” (in fact, he accidentally referred to Colbert as “Jon” at one point), but at “Colbert” he actually brought those he made fun of onstage (instead of just pointing and talking to them).
In fact, he actually had my dad and me join him on the stage. (At one point, my dad’s laugh stuck out and got Mecurio’s attention.) He didn’t get much time with us (the stage manager was telling him to wrap up his set), but there was still enough for an audience member to shout “Go Blue” at our Michigan gear and for some members to cheer for our native New Jersey. It was a surreal couple minutes, which went by too fast.
One of my favorite aspects was the show’s band, Stay Human. Before Colbert went out on stage, the band played a seven-minute set. During that performance, they energetically presented a drum piece, with each of the members getting their own. Then, Batiste got the chance to shine, as he led the band through a few different songs. He ran around the stage and brought the audience in with enthusiasm. During the “commercial breaks” (yes, they take breaks during the taping), they played music from classic up-tempo jazz to some slow Blues, showing off a tremendous range. Even as stoppages extended for several minutes, Batiste and Stay Human made them feel like nothing.
Still, seeing Colbert was the reason I was there, and we got to see some more of his personality at the taping than viewers do at home. In a mid-show Q&A, an audience member asked him about Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion.” While Colbert is known to be a huge “Lord of the Rings” fan, it surprised me to hear the specific details that he shared on the topic. Most late-night hosts do Q&A’s like this, which gives the host a way to bond with the group — Colbert relishes this opportunity.
The crowd in the studio also saw Colbert make some mistakes during the taping. At one point during the episode, he told a joke about a monkey being Ronald Reagan’s first wife, and he laughed a bit too much after telling it. So, he had to repeat the joke a couple times, remarking, “Do try to enjoy that joke a second time. I find comedy works better when you know what’s coming.” There was also a moment where the spectators cheered for a character’s name, ruining a planned bit. Colbert cut the filming and told the group they missed their cue, which made the moment even better when it happened.
The Thanksgiving episode ended with Colbert, Stay Human and the episode’s guests around a dinner table, eating a feast cooked by Daniel Boulud. When giving the toast, he seemed grateful to be hosting “The Late Show.” He makes that feeling abundantly clear to those in the studio by projecting it into every segment, which makes the several hours of waiting worth it.