What you are witnessing is the beginning of a new era in Late Night television--an era where bullshit and sarcasm and snark are no longer the currency of the medium:
Vice President Joe Biden gave a moving interview to comedian Stephen Colbert on "The Late Show" on Thursday, expressing his uncertainty about whether he's emotionally prepared to run for president after the death of his son this past year. "I'd be lying if I said that I knew I was there," he told Colbert. "I'm being completely honest." Biden, still reeling from the death of his eldest son, told Colbert any man or woman running for president should be able "to give 110 percent of who they are," but that he wasn't sure he could make the commitment just yet.
That's the news of what happened--the part that will get reported on by the diligent stenographers of the working press in Washington D.C. What you won't hear is enough about the context of how Stephen Colbert got Vice President Joe Biden to make news today.
Colbert brought out his guest after making fun of the Republicans running for president, and he threw in a Hillary Clinton joke to make it fair. But, really, he mocked the hell out of Donald Trump once again. And once that was over, Colbert went into another segment and separated himself from the entirety of late night television as a medium. He demonstrated that not only is he there because of what he can do but how he is going to do things differently. This is nothing short of a transitional moment if not a cultural shift away from smartassery and insincerity.
Colbert made small talk for a few moments and then went right to the Beau Biden question. He stopped the comedy and he stopped the laughter in order to get Joe Biden to talk about his late son. There's no getting around it--Biden knew that they were going to get serious and there's no question of an agreement to talk at length about suffering and loss. But this is the first guest segment on a late night talk show. A show that is on its third episode. This is where you get a big laugh or throw it to a pre-recorded snippet designed to promote a movie or a show. You go for momentum and rollicking fun, right?
Nope. This is not where you talk about how the Vice President of the United States of America is dealing with the loss of his son and the continuing heartache over losing his wife and daughter in the early 1970s. The downshift may have thrown people off, but there's no getting around the fact that Biden made news and Colbert conducted a near flawless interview with someone over a serious subject. It's impossible to know how many people will be reached by this interview, and I suspect it will play a huge role in Biden's evolving story. It will signify for many the direction in which Colbert has planned to take his show.
And, what's more, there was a concerted effort to reach out to people in the audience and at home. It was an attempt to recognize loss and deal with that in a cathartic way. When's the last time you saw someone on television do something cathartic that didn't involve shooting bullets into a corpse?
Who does this? Can you see Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon doing this? I can't. Sorry, they are both very talented men. I think Kimmel has a great take on Johnny Carson's skepticism and I think Fallon is ten times better than Jay Leno. But Colbert is fifty times better than all of them put together and at least eight times better than David Letterman. Do the math! I can't.
I can't stress this enough--no one does this anymore. This is where Colbert bonded with the Vice President over the loss of his own father and brothers. This is where you saw that the game is about to change and where people are going to bond with Colbert and follow his show for a long time to come. He brought his audience with him, and he's going to add people right and left. It's not enough to entertain anymore--you have to reach people and show them that you're in tune with how the world works. It was a powerful interview and if you have a chance to see the whole thing, you'll see laughter and tears in one place, a rarity nowadays.
And to see such an open and frank discussion about faith--religion--on television without it being used as a weapon against gay people or against minorities is the revolution at work. I mean, you gotta watch this for yourself [no direct link yet, but this is the Colbert site] to see what I mean and you can probably explain the cultural importance of this better than I could, but, wow.