TIME Television

What Didn’t Make It Into TIME’s Cover Story on Stephen Colbert

An edited transcript of Colbert's far-reaching, comprehensive interview for his TIME cover

James Poniewozik’s cover story on Stephen Colbert for this week’s issue of TIME paints a portrait of a comedian in transition. Colbert, who wrapped up his tenth and final season of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central last December, has been tirelessly preparing to take the reins of The Late Show on CBS on Sept. 8.

Between meetings about set design and segments for the new show, Colbert talked about his approach to building the late night show from the ground up—not least of all introducing audiences to the man behind the character he played for so many years on Comedy Central. Below is are selections from the transcript of Poniewozik’s interviews with Colbert that didn’t make it into the final story:

How being the youngest of 11 siblings shaped him: Being the youngest of 11 children, [it was] not so much I wanted [my siblings’] attention, but I wanted to be like them. They had my complete attention as a kid, and that was a training ground for what I do because I had a big family, and there was always laughter and attention-grabbing going on. That was my training ground as much as Second City or anything else. My family happens to have an excellent view of itself. We’re big fans of us.

How having older siblings shaped his taste in culture: My music aged up. My books aged up. My interests aged up. I was a 9-year-old kid who knew what was going on in Watergate because [of] my brothers and sisters, who were getting teargased off at college. I was a music kid of the late ‘70s, but my music was—The Big Chill was no discovery for me. I had records from my brothers and sisters like an original 45 of Bill Haley and The Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” that my brother Ed bought when it came out, because he’s 18 years older than I am. Phil Silvers is like a comedic icon to me. Jimmy Durante is a comedic icon in the ways that [someone] my age absolutely should not [like].

How he got turned on to science fiction: All my allowance was spent on Mad Magazines. Then at a certain point it turned the corner and I spent it all on science fiction. My brothers Jimmy and Ed, my eldest two, had been huge science-fiction fans, so I have boxes and boxes of original 1950s and early ’60s pulp sci-fi that I read. It was so old, like you would turn the page and they would snap off. I still have most of them with rubber bands around them to hold them together, like old copies of Stranger in a Strange Land or Mutant by Henry Kuttner or C.M. Kornbluth, really old like nobody reads that stuff anymore.

How he got into comedy and why he didn’t pursue standup: I wanted to be an actor and discovered improvisation in Chicago through a friend who [invited me] to go see this thing called The Herald Improv. I saw it and I was immediately like, I want to do this. That was performance, scene work, ensemble, character. I’ve done things that are like standup since then. There’s a quality to any of the shows that has a standup component to it, and I admire standups, but I actually like playing with people. I find being onstage with just me and my jokes, the mic and audience is a lonely business. I don’t think I could have lived on the road like that.

Why he was ready to say goodbye to The Colbert Report: I still enjoyed it, but to model behavior, you have to consume that behavior on a regular basis. It became very hard to watch punditry of any kind, of whatever political stripe. I wouldn’t want anybody to mistake my comedy for engagement in punditry itself. And to change that expectation from an audience, or to change that need for me to be steeped in cable news and punditry, I had to actually leave. I had to change.

Toward the end of the last show, it was an act of discipline for me to continue to do the character. The discipline was not even just keeping the character’s point of view in mind or his agenda or a bible of his views, but there was also a need to not let people in, not let people see back stage—not necessarily know who I am so that the character can be the strongest suggestion in their mind when I do the show. If I let them know too much about me or our process, then I would be picking the character’s chicken. I don’t want to put so much light behind that particular stained glass or else he would fade completely.

Why it’s incorrect to think he never broke character in The Colbert Report: We would edit any mistake I ever did. People said, “Oh, you never broke” or “You rarely broke.” That’s because we always took it out, because part of the character was he wasn’t a f—up. He was absolutely always on point. Win. Get over. Stay sharp. That was his attitude all the time, and we had to reflect that in the production of the show. None of that is necessary anymore. Now I can be a comedian.

Whether his new show will resemble his old show in any way: You have to be willing to do everything you know how to do. Carson said it to Jay, who said it to Conan, who said it to me. These shows require everything you know how to do. So the idea that there are things that we did over there that we wouldn’t do at the new space, I think, is an unrealistic approach to the need. And whether it fits is a discovery to be made, not a philosophical exercise to engage in before you do it. It’s athletic, not intellectual.

What he did during his time off: My daughter is in college but I’ve got two boys at home. I helped my son go buy wood for his Eagle Scout project. Pick up the kids from school. Hang out with my wife. Go see some family. Went for an open ocean race, sailed.

What it’s been like preparing to take over The Late Show: Yogi Berra said this great thing—or he didn’t—which I love, but I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, which is, “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” That’s what this is like. This is like, in theory what we’re doing with all these cards on the wall is really getting us ready to do the show in the fall. In practice, only doing the show in the fall gets you ready to do the show in the fall. So why am I doing all of these things? I don’t know, other than that’s what I do for a living, and if I don’t do it I feel like I’m not doing my job. I’m not learning anything if I don’t do it.

Why he hosted a public access TV show in Monroe, Mich. in July: I was like, I don’t want to do the first show on the first night that’s terrible. And one of my writers goes, “Why don’t we just go to a cable access station and do a show?” So we did a lot of research and then were like, we like that show. Let’s do Only in Monroe, and everything on the show has to be about Monroe. Monroe was nice. It’s a pretty little town. Had a great burger at Larson’s Bar. Though there were a lot of people in Monroe [who] thought we chose the wrong bar.

What it was like producing a show in a local TV station: Everybody at the station was just great. I mean, it was a state of the art station from 1999. We ran it live at midnight that night. We fed it out of a laptop over their system, practically with a rubber tube, to get it over their system. Their ratings are normally 12 people. I’m not joking. That’s not a joke. Twelve is their average rating for that show. And so there were 12 of us in the studio when we were feeding it out, and after it was over, I checked Twitter. No one had seen it. No one had said anything.

How he’s planning to introduce his audience to the real Stephen Colbert: We’ve got a series of field pieces, packages that are ways for me to try to figure out who that is, as if I don’t know who I am. The unexamined life can be extremely enjoyable, and who knows if I do know who I am. We’re going to see whether I do. I’ll have my own suppositions as to what these answers might be from people and see if their memory of me is the same or whether the police investigator we hired to investigate me finds out. We’re doing a series called “Who Am Me?”

Who he’s most excited to talk to for “Who Am Me?”: My elementary school teacher, my favorite teacher from elementary school, is just so excited. I had such a crush on her. I’m going to talk to her. I haven’t seen her since 1974 but I can’t believe that they found her. She moved away when I was 10 and then she came back just recently, so they found her down in Charleston.

How he approached set design for The Late Show: The number one thing about a theater is where is your focus: am I performing for the room that the camera is capturing, or am I performing for a camera that the room gets to see? That’s the question. I have an instinct as to which one of those it is, but I won’t know until I do it. How many play spaces will I have? Do I just want one? How do I adjust to the fact that I have a live band there every night, which is something I haven’t had before? How adaptable do I want this space to be, digitally? Do I want physical objects? How am I going to play with the fact that I have a balcony? How does it affect me that I go from three cameras to six cameras? All those sort of things that are kind of boring to talk about, but as the guy who sits at the desk and all this is around him, I care about all of it.

The set can’t be the star, but it still has to be very attractive. In some ways, we want the set to look like look that great new apartment Stephen got—I know why he took that show, I’d love to live there. It’s like we’re inviting you into my new pad without denying the existence of the theater. That’s the challenge: Can you create a set that lives within the reality that you’re in a theater but still has the intimacy? The show is extremely intimate, so you want a guide. How do you maintain that intimacy while acknowledging you’re in a Broadway theater at the same time?

What his plans are for the opening credits to the new show: I can’t tell you anything that’s going to be visual, but I can tell you that it was important to me that the city itself, New York, is part of the character of these shows, the energy of being in the city. We’re trying to capture some of the energy, the energy of a day of New York in the opening credits. And that’s what it’s about. It’s all over New York. We’re shooting all over the city.

How he thinks about what he will cover on the show: You have to basically sift through what you like and what you don’t like about performing, or what you really enjoy about your relationship with an audience. I have to give myself the patience to literally use my imagination and go—when I close my eyes—what would I enjoy seeing as a consumer? I don’t mean that as like market testing consumer, I’m literally a fan of comedy. What do I want to see on TV?

What he admired most about David Letterman: His disregard for status and respectability. That’s it. It reminded me of Mad Magazine that way. I love it. Those wrestling shoes he used to wear. That’s it. That’s the disregard for status, those wrestling shoes.

Whether David Letterman offered any advice before Colbert took the reins: We had a very lovely evening. He met me in his offices. He had a bottle of water and he answered questions. He was very nice about it. He just answered questions for about an hour and a half for me, and it was two guys with similar jobs talking shop. It was entirely pleasant, and he was very gracious to me. At the end of the night he showed me how to run the freight elevator and that was it…it was like being handed the keys to a car and someone just saying, “Let me show you how to use the clutch—it sticks.” It was beautiful.

Why he’s grateful that he was settled in life before getting this job: I feel very lucky that I got this kind of gig as old as I was. I was 41 before anybody stopped me on the street, so I hope I had a sense of who I was. I was married; I had all my kids; I had my house; my little suburban lifestyle with my Volvo and my khakis going to the dry cleaners on a Saturday. That’s me. I’m boring—not boring—I’m common. I don’t mean that pejoratively. I’m very common. I happen to have this job that very few people have but I’m very happy that I like khakis and an oxford cloth shirt. I like being boring to a certain extent. I don’t have to be flashy. I get to put all of that into a show and when it’s over I don’t have to be that.

How he knows whether a joke will work: After a while I don’t actually need to hear the audience to hear the audience. I know kind of what the rhythm is, theoretically, on a maybe 75 percent successful scale—like what might be a joke that would fit in a scene or a sketch or a monologue. But not having an audience is agonizing. I miss the audience so much. That’s the hardest part about right now, not being in front of anybody.

How his relationship to the audience has evolved: I learned from a director early on who said you got to learn to love the bomb, and that meant learning not just to feel like you’re going to get through it, but that you actually kind of like that you’re getting nothing from the audience. That took me a long time. It took many, many years for that to be okay. Then you’re really aware of your relationship with the audience. You’re not constantly asking. That’s a tough thing to do with an audience—go out there and constantly go, “Love me, love me, love me.” It’s much better to be perceiving their needs and giving, giving, giving to them. And then they’ll give you something genuine back.

Read next: Five Things You Learn in TIME’s Cover Story on Stephen Colbert

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TIME Television

Five Things You Learn in TIME’s Cover Story on Stephen Colbert

[time brightcove videoid=4441763655001]

Doing doughnuts in the Waffle House parking lot, the origin of his accent and more

This week’s TIME cover story is a profile of Stephen Colbert by James Poniewozik, who met with Colbert at the Ed Sullivan Theater—where CBS’s The Late Show has been filmed since the early ‘90s—to learn more about his plans as he prepares to take the helm of the iconic late night show on Sept. 8. In a far-reaching interview, Colbert spoke about transitioning out of his fictional character on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, the conflating of news and comedy and the pronunciation of his last name.

Here are five things we learned:

He was occasionally reckless as a child. For a series of segments for The Late Show, Colbert’s staff visited his hometown to interview friends and acquaintances about what he was like as a young man. The anecdotes they collected include stories about bold moves in the car—fender benders and doughnuts in the Waffle House parking lot, to name a couple—and his accidental destruction of his mother’s crystal chandelier with a football. “I took all the crystals off,” he says, “hundreds of crystals, and rehung them in a new pattern. She never noticed. I told her 30 years later.”

He chose the pronunciation of his last name. When Colbert was younger, his parents allowed him to choose between emphasizing the first or second syllable of his last name. He chose to pronounce it “col-BEAR,” thinking it had a more worldly ring to it. The South Carolina-bred comedian also worked deliberately to shed his Southern accent.

He’s great at trivia. While showing Poniewozik around the theater, Colbert spouted a wealth of knowledge about the building’s history (the original 1950s CBS eye logo, for one thing, was designed by William Golden). He also mentioned, unsolicited, that Abe Lincoln was a wrestler with a penchant for yelling “I’m the big buck of this lick!” and challenging strangers to fight.

He’s a self-described control freak: Colbert weighed in heavily on the set redesign for The Late Show, as production crews worked to replace David Letterman’s style with that of his successor. He had opinions on everything from the upholstery to the exposed brick walls to the layout of mirrors in the guest makeup room. “I’m a complete obsessive-compulsive control freak,” he says. “I like to know where the data cable is coming in from the street.”

He worried that some fans of The Colbert Report saw him as a political figure more than a comedian. Many audience members saw Colbert, as Poniewozik explains, almost as a “political folk hero.” But his primary goal was always comedy. “People had [political] expectations early on in that show following the Correspondents’ Dinner, which is why I almost never spoke about that,” Colbert says, referring to his blistering takedown of President George W. Bush in 2006. “I didn’t want people’s expectations that I was anyone’s champion to overcome our intention, which was comedy. I don’t want to be anybody’s champion. That doesn’t sound funny.”

TIME Television

The Creepy Alternate Ending for Friends That’s Gone Viral

Caution: If you read this, Friends will never quite be the same for you again

On May 6, 2004, millions of hearts broke as Monica, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Joey and Phoebe said one final goodbye to the apartment, left their keys on the counter and walked out to get one last coffee at Central Perk in the emotional Friends series finale.

But what if the iconic TV show had ended differently?

A Twitter user called @strnks has a theory. And it’s a far cry from the sad but heartwarming final scene of the 10-season sitcom.

In the alternate ending, there are only five friends. Their names wouldn’t be Monica, Chandler, Joey, Ross and Rachel — those identities, as well as the events of the show itself, are the figments of the imagination of a homeless, meth-addict Phoebe as she stares at them through the window of their favorite coffee shop.

There are several references during the show to Phoebe’s character previously having lived on the streets, and this ending — which has since gone viral fits in quite well with that.

Still, we’re glad @strnks (whose Twitter bio says he is a designer) wasn’t one of the show’s writers.

Here’s the entire alternate ending, which will give you chills.

Read next: Joey and Chandler Didn’t Go to Rachel’s Wedding

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TIME Television

Mr. Robot Finale Delayed for a Week Due to TV Shooting Similarities

Mr. Robot Episode 104 --fsociety
Peter Kramer—USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images Mr. Robot Episode 104 --fsociety

The show that was supposed to air Wednesday contains a "graphic scene similar in nature to today's tragic events in Virginia"

Mr. Robot, a drama about a vigilante hacker that airs on the USA Network, will delay Wednesday’s season finale to September 2 due to a “graphic scene similar in nature to today’s tragic events in Virginia.”

“Out of respect to the victims, their families and colleagues, and our viewers, we are postponing tonight’s episode,” the network said in a statement, referring to the live television shooting of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward early Wednesday. “Our thoughts go out to all those affected during this difficult time.”

Parker and Ward were shot on air by Vester Lee Flanagan II, known on air at WDBJ as Bryce Williams, who used to work at the station. Flanagan later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.

 

TIME Television

A Sons of Anarchy Spin-Off Is in the Works

SONS OF ANARCHY -- "Red Rose" -- Episode 712 -- Airs Tuesday, December 2, 10:00 pm e/p) -- Pictured: (L-R) Kim Coates as Tig Trager, Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller, Tommy Flanagan as Chibs Telford. CR: Byron Cohen/FX
FX From left to right: Kim Coates as Tig Trager, Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller, Tommy Flanagan as Chibs Telford in Sons of Anarchy

It will focus on another gang in the hit FX show's universe

The sun hasn’t set on the Sons of Anarchy universe just yet—creator Kurt Sutter is in the early stages of developing a spin-off to FX’s most popular show in the network’s history.

Not much is known about the series, Entertainment Weekly reports, other than that it will focus on the Mayans, an Oakland-based, Mexican-American gang that appeared in the original series.

Sutter, who will executive produce the project, had teased the idea of a prequel series at Comic-Con in July, but it’s not yet known whether the spin-off will exist on that timeline. He didn’t say much in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, only that he was looking for a writer to lead the project.

[EW]

 

 

 

TIME Television

Here’s Your First Official Look at Lady Gaga in American Horror Story

Michael Avedon for Entertainment Weekly

The pop singer is letting her freak flag fly once again

We’ve seen her sparkly glove and some unofficial set footage, but now American Horror Story fans are getting their first real look at Lady Gaga’s character in the show’s upcoming fifth season, Hotel.

The pop star covers the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, which offers new details about her character Countess Elizabeth, a blood-drinking socialite involved in a steamy love triangle. Gaga—no stranger to the weird and macabre—also tells the magazine about what it’s like indulging her freaky side following a period of relative normalcy in her career.

“I’ve just been weeping while I’m here because I have returned to something I’ve believed in so much, which is the art of darkness,” she says. “It’s not something that everyone understands, but, for the people that do—Horror Story fans, my fans—there is a true connection between us, and it’s a language within itself.”

[EW]

TIME Television

Watch: Why Bob Odenkirk Didn’t Watch Two Seasons of Breaking Bad

He blames the kids

Bob Odenkirk may have won over fans in his role as Saul Goodman on AMC’s Breaking Bad, but it turns out the actor didn’t even start watching the hit show until the fourth season.

Odenkirk, who first appears as the crooked lawyer on Breaking Bad in Season 2, told Jimmy Kimmel Monday night that he had a good excuse for not tuning into the show until his third season on it: “I had little kids, you can’t have little kids come in during Breaking Bad or the state will come after you.”

We wonder if he lets his children watch his spinoff series Better Call Saul?

TIME

Watch Jon Stewart Get Body Slammed by WWE Wrestler

WWE SummerSlam 2015
JP Yim—Getty Images Jon Stewart gets into the action at WWE SummerSlam 2015 Barclays Center of Brooklyn in New York City on Aug. 23, 2015.

"Stewart asked for it"

Jon Stewart returned to the ring Monday evening to mend fences with WWE wrestler John Cena, one day after the retired Daily Show host swung a chair into Cena’s gut.

Cena claimed to “understand” why Stewart launched a sneak attack, and asked for Stewart’s understanding in return, before treating the comedian to his signature body slam, the Attitude Adjustment.

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