In less than a year, Stephen Colbert’s viewing numbers have increased, jumping by 20 percent at the beginning of the year. Colbert’s late night burns of President Trump and live shows have made the show a huge hit on CBS.
Chris Licht is the producer and showrunner behind the scenes. Transitioning from working on daytime shows to night time has been a change, one that Licht enjoys. Read our chat below and consider The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in your Emmy voting
What is the transition like for you now that you have this great groove with it?
It’s been a great experience for me. It’s people who know what they’re doing and it’s people at the top of their game. I’m still learning about comedy per se because I get to sit in the re-write room every day with Stephen and the writers. To see my world of late breaking news come and invade their world of comedy and to see them put the show on every day is fun.
That comment about comedy, you’re also doing Our Cartoon President. I think you have an apt for comedy right there.
I know it’s funny, but I don’t know how to make it.
We live in a world where the news cycle changes by the minute. Take me inside the writer’s room with the administration keeping the news as it is.
During the campaign, we did a bunch of live shows and what that did from a creative standpoint, was it forced the writers and Stephen to be able to create comedy with a sense of urgency because a lot of what we were reacting to had just happened. To see the art form of these guys and women to be able to put together monologues in the blink of an eye and to see Stephen perform it, sometimes without rehearsals has become less the exception and more of the norm.
There have been a few instances where news broke while we were taping.
Gary Cohn’s resignation is an example of that, right?
Something like that happens and the entire organization mobilizes. The head writers get their team together. Tom Purcell the Executive producer figures out whether we’re putting it and Stephen figures out how he’s going to perform it.
We’ve also streamlined the production process. When something like this happens, you really can’t drop everything, change everything, swipe something in, and still get the show delivered on time. In news, you don’t necessarily need to have a take on it, you just have to deliver the news to the audience. Here, it’s an artform, you have to have jokes and it’s an artform to watch.
What’s it like seeing Stephen deliver those zingers?
It’s exhilarating because he is exhilarating. The joy you’re seeing in his delivery is reflective of the joy he’s feeling in doing the show. He’s comfortable. He’s having fun and you can see he’s connecting with the audience. I think it was when Kim Jong Un invited Trump to meet him, We almost did it as a breaking comedy news and he was screwing things up as he said them, but he didn’t care. It was the raw joy of being in the moment and relating to what everyone was thinking about major news events.
That happened when we were on the air, and Stephen just dove into it barely knowing what he was going to say.
Are you going to go live again?
We just went live for the state of the union. The entire theater knows how to do it, the bar is very low to do it.
How do you approach the show now that everyone loves it and anyone could be watching it?
You don’t really think about that, it’s more about being authentic to Stephen’s energy and his take on things.
We have a standards department to make sure we don’t do anything too crazy, but really the show is a reflection of the host.
Nighttime and daytime are so different, what was that shift like for you?
I will certainly never miss getting up at 4 am in the morning. I see my child in the morning and at night. It’s a completely foreign schedule to me but it’s been great.
Our Cartoon President is great and Showtime is a great network for it. How did that all happen for you?
Showtime is great. With David Nevins, there’s a sure hand. From the pitch to people making the show, it was an incredibly short turn around. He liked it. He’s very involved in giving notes. We had such a great experience working with the team.
This was the first place we took the project too. There was a lot of comfort going to showtime. For me, it’s been fun, my role was getting everyone together to make it happen. The showrunner put together a great team of writers who could write things that were relevant but not necessarily topical.
Tim Luecke is the animation genius behind it. What’s fun about the show is that it’s produced right here in the theater and it’s done on the tenth floor. We don’t farm it out. While being creatively sharp, it’s also breaking new ground technology wise.
Is anyone off limits on the show?
You’ll never see Barron. We try to stay away from anyone not actively involved in the White House.
Who would be a dream guest?
Anyone who would tell the truth.