In August, when Showtime Networks CEO and president David Nevins made the "half announcement" that Stephen Colbert would host a live, comedy special for Showtime on election night, the exec told reporters, "That sounds fun, right?"
It did, but what transpired during Tuesday night's Showtime special—prophetically titled, Stephen Colbert's Live Election Night Democracy's Series Finale: Who's Going to Clean Up This Sh*t?—was anything but fun, as news came rolling in throughout the program of Donald Trump's surprising voting surge.
The crowd for Monday night's live Late Show With Stephen Colbert had been treated to an energetic, hilarious live election eve show, with a surprise appearance from Jon Stewart. But just 24 hours later, the energy in the Ed Sullivan Theater for the Showtime special (Colbert jumped to CBS' sister network for the night as election coverage had preempted the Late Show) couldn't have been more different.
Forced to turn off their cellphones more for than 30 minutes before the show began, the audience had no idea of what election news had transpired, and loudly gasped as Colbert shared the latest results on-air.
"Right now the election is too close to call and too terrifying to contemplate," Colbert said. "This one is a nail-biter, and a passport-grabber."
And while he opened up with a humorous animated package (below) about how President Obama had driven Trump to run for president, it quickly became clear that Colbert's Showtime special wasn't a comedy show, but a wake.
Each new revelation that Trump had taken battleground states like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina sucked the energy out of the pro-Hillary Clinton audience.
"I'm not sure if it's a comedy show at this point. I think we're in the middle of a documentary right now," Colbert finally noted.
When Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, who appear on Showtime's political documentary series The Circus, told him that Trump was on the doorstep to the 270 electoral votes required for the presidency, a shocked Colbert said, "I can't put a happy face on that, and that's my job."
After that point, the audience was in no mood for comedy—even Laura Benanti's pitch-perfect impersonation of Melania Trump, one of Colbert's best recurring election bits, couldn't jumpstart the crowd.
"I feel as if I'm about to give birth to a baby that's already dead," said comedian Jena Friedman later in the show, noting. "No one is laughing. This is so sad and scary." Added radio personality Charlamagne Tha God, "We're fucked!"
Given the bleak turn of events, Colbert was forced to shift to an unexpected role: grief counselor. "It's imperative not to lose heart," he said.
After this election, "we all now feel the way that Rudy Giuliani looks," said Colbert. "We are more divided than ever as a nation," with both Democrats and Republicans "terrified" of the other side. "How did our politics get so poisonous? We overdosed, especially this year. We drank too much of the poison."
In his closing remarks, Colbert urged the country to pick up the pieces and move forward by finding ways to laugh together again, and start remembering what everyone has in common. Some examples: the belief that "work email sucks," that a car's low-fuel light "is not a warning, but a challenge," and most importantly, that "we should never, ever have another election like this one."
After the show ended around 12:20 a.m., Colbert reiterated that message to his stunned audience as they silently filed out of the Ed Sullivan Theater: "It's a beautiful country. We're all going to be alright."