Stephen Colbert walked onto the stage of The Late Show Wednesday night on an ironic note of triumph. “Am I still the host?” he jokingly asked the bandleader Jon Batiste. “I’m still the host!” he affirmed, raising his arms in triumph. For not the first time in his late-night career, Colbert had been the target of an online campaign to fire him on the basis of a joke many deemed offensive. #FireColbert, the hashtag of choice this time around, was largely a storm in a Twitter teacup. But it was a big enough one to merit on-air attention.
“Now, folks, if you saw my monologue on Monday, you know that I was a little upset at Donald Trump for insulting a friend of mine,” the host said. “So, at the end of that monologue, I had a few choice insults for the president in return. I don’t regret that. I believe he can take care of himself. I have jokes; he has the launch codes. So, it’s a fair fight.” It was a pithy response and a largely apt one. Colbert is a topical comedian—part of his job is to snipe at the president, like many hosts before him have at many leaders before Donald Trump.
The controversy had erupted largely over the manner of Colbert’s tongue-lashing. On Monday night, in response to President Trump walking out of an interview with the CBS anchor John Dickerson (a friend of the Late Show host), Colbert read a laundry list of insults on-air to rapturous cheers from the crowd. “When you insult one member of the CBS family, you insult us all,” he said, reeling off a series of scripted jokes and ending on, “In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster.”