Last night's "Colbert Report Live" packed in staffers, friends, and family, as well as a few lucky ticket holders to the small Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, site of the previously staged "30 Rock Live" and "SNL Live." UCBT co-founder Amy Poehler and her SNL "Weekend Update" co-anchor Seth Meyers stood in the back, cheering along the writers at every punchline. At the other end of the room stood "30 Rock" star Jack McBrayer. Other than these UCB regulars, there weren't any recognizable faces. The closest I got to a celebrity sighting was a fat guy wearing a beanie who looked like Artie Lange.
Televised episodes of "The Colbert Report" only feature glimpses of the writing staff: "Bobby" the stage manager, played by Eric Drysdale, appears every now and then, and if you're quick you can spot writers like Peter Gwinn and Laura Krafft, who sometimes appear as plants in the audience or pre-taped "On the Road" segments. But while Stephen Colbert still sat center stage at Monday night's show, the attention was definitely on the writers.
Home crowd favorite Peter Gwinn, a UCB instructor and longtime improv stalwart, opened the show, giving thanks to the staff and crew and announcing that the funds collected from the $20 ticket sales would go to the now out-of-work crew. He also thanked everyone who helped "bring things from the offices we can't get into" (these guys aren't about to cross picket lines for a few measly props!). Gwinn introduced Stephen Colbert, who barreled out from backstage with arms in the air and a huge grin on his face, reciprocating the huge amount of applause from the audience by high five-ing everyone in the front row, in typical Colbert fashion. He said a few words about the strike, admitting that he's been doing the show for his dryer machine for the past two weeks. And because he's been able to spend so much time at home with the family, one afternoon his 6-year-old daughter told him "I love the strike," to which his 9-year-old added, "Isn't it great?"
Colbert opened up the floor for questions, in hopes that this would "humanize" him. The first question, which couldn't have been more appropriate for the venue, was about lessons Colbert learned from Del Close, the improv guru who trained John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, and the Upright Citizens Brigade. The next question was prefaced with "I come to this theater a lot," to which Amy Poehler perked up and put her hand to her ear. The question was about whether Stephen would return to the UCB. Stephen said that if this kind of situation (strike) happened again, he certainly would return.
The official "Colbert Report" show within last night's show began with "Bobby" counting down to airtime. The lights went down on the stage, which was adorned with red, white, and blue stars and party streamers (no photos were permitted, as per usual, alas), and the audience cheered as the show's intro music played. Colbert did his usual intro: quick jokes summing up the main topics of the show, but with one small difference. Instead of flashy graphics with witty headlines popping up at the bottom of the screen, writers stood over Stephen's shoulder holding poster board with the headlines written on in magic marker. As soon as Stephen uttered "This is the Colbert Report!", writers filed through the stage door, running across stage with signs containing words from the show's intro. The last writer, head writer Allison Silverman, held a sign that said "Strikely." This "back to the basics" style of presenting text was the format for "The Word" segment as well, except two more writers came out to hold up identical signs for the left and right wings of the audience. The subject was the confirmation of Michael Mukasey as attorney general. Colbert examined the effect that the confirmation could have on Bush, looking at how past shake-ups (like Katrina) have changed him (Poster board: "Will show sympathy for beads"). The audience was rewarded with a bonus "Word" segment, this one about Dennis Kucinich and his U.F.O. sighting. Title: "U.F.O. No You Didn't!" The audience gave gracious approval for both "Word" features, especially after hearing from Colbert how hard they are to produce. "You have to write two jokes running parallel with each other... It sucks the fucking calcium out of your bones!"
Commercial breaks were provided by Peter Gwinn and Peter Grosz, who improvised a Sonic commercial. The crowd went nuts seeing Grosz, an actual Sonic commercial star, poking fun at himself. During the second commercial break Stephen asked "Bobby" what he's been up to since the strike began. "Bobby" said he's been building a shelf.
The show featured the popular "Threat Down" segment, for which Stephen provided the laser-like sound effects himself (byou! byou! byou! byou!). We were even treated to the flashy "Threat Down" graphics from the show that played on the overhead screen behind Stephen. The number two threat, eccentric billionaires, gave Stephen another excuse to play the clip of Richard Branson throwing water on him. The number one threat was, you guessed it, BEARS! The threat was centered on this article from FoxNews.com about officials in Alaska dyeing problem bears certain colors to mark them as dangerous. According to Stephen, bears already have a color coding scheme to alert people about their dangers. "If the bears are black, brown, or white, you've already got a problem." "If you want to make kids scared of bears," he added, "paint them to look like things kids hate, like peas, piano lessons, or Tucker Carlson."
Instead of the usual guest interview segment, Colbert brought out the authors of I Am America (And So Can You!), who also happen to be the show's writers, to read the sections of the book that they are responsible for writing. Peter Gwinn read about Stephen's first memory, Eric Drysdale discussed what it takes to have foreign balls, Laura Krafft read about higher education, and Rob Dubbin read from "When Animals Attack Our Morals." The segment concluded with a comparison of Colbert's book, which held the top spot of the New York Times Bestseller list for six weeks, to the new top seller, Glenn Beck's An Inconvenient Book. Somewhere between there and the end of the show there was a Van Halen concert on the moon and a love song for Karl Rove, sung by Stephen, ending with "I love you and your big baby head." The song was penned after Rove's resignation, and was performed as a "come back to me" type song. It was a fitting ending for a show that everyone misses.
See the actual Colbert writers here in their video from the 2007 Emmys.