NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Thunderous cheers and chants greeted Stephen Colbert as he made his debut Tuesday night as the host of CBS’ “The Late Show.”
PHOTOS: Colbert’s ‘Late Show’ Debut
Originating from the Ed Sullivan Theatre at 1697 Broadway – the same space that David Letterman used for “The Late Show” from 1993 until this past May – Colbert promised that he would indeed allow his audience to see his real self after having played a conservative pundit on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” for nine years.
“With this show, I begin the search for the real Stephen Colbert,” he said. “I just hope I don’t find him on Ashley Madison.”
The monologue and other opening moments followed an assortment of jokes and gags, featuring everything from a moving “monkey paw” good luck charm to a chanting amulet.
Colbert also gave viewers a tour of the renovated Ed Sullivan Theater, featuring a new stained glass dome ceiling honoring the new show with all the reverence and pomp of a Renaissance cathedral.
Well, not really.
“That is all digital projection,” Colbert said of the ceiling. “I wanted to have Michelangelo paint it, but it turns out that Ninja Turtles aren’t real.”
The studio tour also featured video screens on the walls that could take viewers anywhere in the world – or just let Colbert watch TV himself if he should happen to get bored. He appeared to tune in to “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon at one point – and interrupt it.
His monologue included a bit with CBS President Leslie Moonves, who jokingly held a switch that could turn off the show for reruns of “The Mentalist.”
Colbert also took some shots at Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, particularly following Trump’s comments late last month that he would never eat Oreos again because manufacturer Nabisco would be moving a factory operation from the Southwest Side of Chicago to Mexico.
Colbert helped himself to several Oreos as he riffed on Trump’s comments.
But in a more serious moment, Colbert had kind and reverent words for predecessor Letterman.
“The comedy landscape is so thickly planted with the forest of Dave’s ideas that sometimes we need to remind ourselves how tall Dave stands,” Colbert said.
And while no longer playing his familiar pundit character from his “Comedy Central” days, Colbert’s familiar deadpan irreverence was still seen in his interview with actor George Clooney.
“You’re one of those rare famous people who cares about something other than himself,” Colbert told Clooney before asking the actor about his activism on behalf of the victims in the Darfur conflict.
“No, that’s just not true,” Clooney replied. “I care about me. Me, me, me.”
Colbert also gave Clooney a gift to honor the actor’s wedding last year to Amal Alamuddin – sort of. The daintily-wrapped gift turned out to be a blue crystal paperweight inscribed with the words, “I don’t know you.”
“You can pass that one to another celebrity you have to pretend you don’t know,” Colbert told Clooney.
But Colbert adopted a more hard-hitting and thoughtful style reminiscent of Letterman as he interviewed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.
Bush and Colbert talked good-naturedly about national politics as Bush said he thought a smaller and more efficient government and less combativeness in Washington could improve the country.
“I don’t think Barack Obama has bad motives,” Bush said. “I just think he’s wrong on a lot of issues.”
“You were so close to getting them to clap,” Colbert quipped, referring to the audience.
Colbert won cheers when he asked Bush how he differed politically and in policy from his brother, former President George W. Bush.
Bush replied, “I think my brother probably didn’t control the Republican Congress spending. I think he should have brought the hammer down on the Republicans when they spent too much, because our brand is limited government.”
In a bonus clip released online, Bush spoke out against the Iran nuclear weapons deal and poked fun at his competitor Donald Trump. He also spoke about gun control and mental health issues.
The program ended with a musical performance by Colbert’s melodica-wielding bandleader Jon Batiste and his group Stay Human.
Batiste and Stay Human were joined by an assortment of other stars — including Mavis Staples, Buddy Guy, Brittany Howard, Ben Folds, and Derek Trucks – as they performed Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.” Colbert also came onstage to sing a chorus himself.
Fans who saw the taping told CBS2’s Jessica Schneider that Colbert was off to a running, high-kicking, high-energy start and he did not disappoint in the slightest.
“It was fantastic,” said spectator Andrea Simmons. “It was everything I’d hoped for and more.”
“This was great. I’m so impressed,” added Michelle Buckholtz of Cleveland. “I had no idea what this would turn into. He turned into a really great interviewer – he’s a singer; he was just a showman, I was just so impressed!”
“What we just left is everything that embodies my generation – the baby boomers and Gen X,” said Billy Buckholtz of Cleveland. “It was a rock and roll show, comedy; it was some seriousness.”
The taping went on for 2 1/2 hours, although it was ultimately whittled down to an hour and nine minutes. Spectators said Colbert did several retakes of some of the segments, but each time, Colbert was funny.