Pasadena, Calif. • Stephen Colbert is hugely grateful to Donald Trump. For the sake of the country, Colbert wishes he were a lot less grateful.
“Here’s the thing,” Colbert said. “I love my country more than I love a good joke.”
Yes, Trump provides an unending supply of comedic material for “The Late Show” (weeknights, 10:35, CBS/Ch. 2). And the Trump Effect has had a massive effect on the landscape of late-night television.
Before Trump became president, “The Late Show” was struggling in the ratings. There was speculation that CBS made a mistake by hiring the former star of “The Colbert Report” to replace David Letterman. Pundits opined that CBS ought to give James Corden “The Late Show” and push Colbert back to “The Late Late Show.”
Since Trump took office, Colbert’s ratings have rocketed. “The Late Show” is the clear leader in total viewers and has pulled pretty much even with Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” in younger demographics.
Yes, Colbert sharpened his act. Some nights, his entire monologue is filled with nothing but digs at Trump.
Fallon hurt himself with his fawning interview of Trump, complete with hair-tousling during the campaign.
But Trump is clearly the catalyst for what’s happened in the late-night ratings race. So Colbert ought to be grateful, right?
Well, sort of.
“Yeah, this is great that he is communicating in an uncontrolled way and that he does it so often that you always have fresh material,” Colbert said. “But I don’t want to describe that as a good thing. I would happily do with less.”
Because while it’s good for comedy, it’s not good for the country — a viewpoint that Colbert makes clear every night. A viewpoint that poll after poll indicates a large majority of American agree with.
It works for “The Late Show.” And Colbert is hoping it works for “Our Cartoon President,” a new animated series he’s producing — along with “Late Show” executive producer Chris Licht and R.J. Fried for Showtime. (It’s scheduled to premiere Sunday, Feb. 11.)
Colbert rejected the idea that “Our Cartoon President” in any way normalizes the president. That it in any way makes Trump seem cute or charming.
“I don’t think we’re complimenting him by making a cartoon out of him,” he said.
Colbert promised episodes will be “dark enough” to “reflect the stakes of truly cartoonish behavior in the actual 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” And, while “Our Cartoon President” might appear completely goofy, it will continually “remind [viewers] that this behavior is really not what you want in the White House.”
So, yeah, he’s grateful that Trump helped his ratings. But he’d rather have lower ratings and worry less about the future of the country.
Like most of the rest of us.