Of course, Oliver was the perfect guest to participate in a wide-ranging political discussion tinged with fury—it’s the bedrock of his HBO show Last Week Tonight, which returns next week. On Tuesday, Colbert was most interested in Oliver’s last broadcast, shortly after Election Day, in which Oliver urged viewers to go outside their online bubble and actively work to fight whatever wrongs they see in the world. “I think people are still feeling viscerally repelled by things. I think the problem really arises when you get punch-drunk,” Oliver said. “When you hear of Betsy DeVos’s confirmation and think, ‘Well, that’s the way the world is now,’” then the never-ending news cycle has worked in the administration’s favor, he argued. Colbert has been similarly eager to run at Trump’s policies in recent weeks after a 2016 where he seemed far more passive.
On Tuesday, Colbert and Oliver discussed their roles as hosts in the coming years, as comedians and activists trying to keep their viewers focused on issues that matter. “It’s easy to be angry when you’re on adrenaline. It’s much harder when you’re just tired,” Oliver said, before launching into an excoriation of the president’s “debacle” of an executive order on immigration. As a green-card holder, he quipped, he no longer felt safe from deportation, voicing a genuine, broader fear that the administration was changing the bedrock rules of American society at an alarming pace. “Things are not what they are supposed to be,” he said, joking that Trump could be in office for 8, or even 12 years. “Words don’t mean anything anymore, why would numbers?”
What’s even more surprising for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, though, is that this kind of discussion has grown beyond the occasional drop-by from a political comic like Oliver (or, of course, Jon Stewart himself). When the Quantico star Priyanka Chopra visited the show last week, the conversation was loaded with Trump jokes. Colbert’s monologues now usually focus on the day’s political news, and he’s come to excel at desk segments more reminiscent of his Colbert Report days, such as a humorous exposé of the non-existent “Bowling Green massacre.”
Last year, Colbert’s ratings were low enough that CBS had to publicly deny rumors that it was planning to move James Corden, the host of The Late Late Show, into Colbert’s job. The network then brought on Chris Licht, a CBS News vice president who specialized in morning shows, to help Colbert (who said he had spread himself too thin in his first few months) find his creative voice on the network. For a while, The Late Show seemed as lost as ever, featuring the kind of puffy celebrity interviews that its host struggles to engage with. But Trump’s election, and the constant churn of news and outrage that’s accompanied it, has given Colbert a meaningful boost.