Stephen Colbert on a Possible Late Show Sidekick and Regrowing His ‘Colbeard’

Six bonus items that didn’t make our cover story

When Stephen Colbert sat down with Adweek for his first major interview since starting The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in September, he had a lot to get off his chest. So much, in fact, that it couldn't all fit into this week's cover story about his post-Super Bowl show on Sunday. Yesterday, he talked about how Jon Stewart earns his keep as one of The Late Show's four executive producers. Here are six other bonus elements that weren't able to fit in our cover story.

1. He's looking for a sidekick.

While he's not necessarily in the market for a full-time foil, à la Andy Richter or Ed McMahon, Colbert is trying to find more people he can "play with" onstage as he looks to fill an hour program each night. "I realize that I started off as an improviser, and I was never a standup. That was what [Johnny] Carson created originally, Ed McMahon became that for him, and [Steve] Higgins is a wonderful foil for Jimmy [Fallon]. It's not something I really thought I'd want. But now I understand that you're hosting a party and it gives you a co-host, allows you someone to play with," says Colbert.

To that end, Colbert is searching for new ways to interact with other people on air during comedy bits. He has enlisted Paul Dinello, his supervising producer and "my oldest improv friend," to participate in his new "Friday Night Fights" segment, in which he pits two nouns together in a Twitter poll, and they debate which of them would win in a fight. (For example, Santa Claus vs Marvel villain Thanos).

That desire for more interaction also led to one of his favorite Late Show segments yet: an on-camera meeting he had with supervising producer Liz Levin. "She had said, 'We're shooting something this weekend and I can't get a meeting. The only time I even get to see you is on the show.' And we agreed that we would just have the meeting on the show," he said.

During their October segment, "I had no idea what the meeting was going to be about and couldn't remember what I had assigned her. We did a three minute and 30-second meeting and it was absolutely a joy. I wish I could do that three times a week. And I will. I just don't know how to get there," said Colbert.

2. His nine-month talk show hiatus was pure torture.

Other than a guest appearance on The Mindy Project, Colbert didn't have much of an outlet during his nine months in between late-night shows. And he felt every moment of that hiatus. "Having to think about it without having being able to do it is maddening, because I need the release of connecting with the audience," he said. "There's a lot of worry involved in doing any show and when it's all just theory, you've got no way to quiet the voice in your head."

Still, Colbert knows that things could have been worse. "While a show like this is very demanding, the nice flip of that coin is that you know every night whether you did it. You don't have to wait," he said. "Making movies must be brutal. J.J. Abrams came and sat right there about three months before Star Wars was launched.  And he said, 'So, you took over for a legend. How does that feel?' And I said, 'It's challenging, but I feel pretty good about it.'  And he goes. 'I've got to do that in three months.' I said, 'The nice thing about it is I get to find out every night how it's going. You have to wait for this one event. And that's it.' Being a director must be brutal."

3. The "Colbeard" could be making a comeback.

Once he left The Colbert Report in December 2014, Colbert immediately started growing a beard, which he deemed the "Colbeard." He shaved it off shortly before May's CBS upfront, and turned that into a funny video which he posted online in June.

But we might not have seen the last of the Colbeard. "I've got an idea, a reason to grow it back, but that's a surprise. We've got a big game we want to play this spring, and there might be reason for the Colbeard to come back," he said. "I liked it, but my wife Evie didn't. Not having really broad shoulders, the beard was my first real secondary male sex characteristic. I really miss it. It gave me cheekbones, because that was the only part of my face you could see."

4. Being "Stephen Colbert" was exhausting.

The "Colbeard" may be making a comeback.Getty Images

Now that he is no longer conducting interviews as his "Stephen Colbert" persona from The Colbert Report, Colbert has a lot more energy at the end of his show tapings. "I'm like, 'Oh, I'm not exhausted at the end of the interview!' Because I used to have to run everything through the character's CPU and then spit it back out with my intention and his words. And I don't have to do that anymore," he said. "I would literally have a headache at the end of those interviews on the old show. As much as I enjoyed them, they were exhausting. Now, I can do three or four interviews in a night and I'm like, 'I am not dead!'"

That was something that Letterman had pointed out to him when they spoke before he retired last May. "He goes, 'I don't think you're going to find a difference between a half hour and an hour. The show's not going to be more tiring for you, because you don't have to do it in character anymore. You can actually just talk about what you care about,'" said Colbert.

5. He's only a football fan on Super Bowl Sunday.

Colbert's high school football career last one day. "The biggest guy on the team, who was a friend of mine, hit me as hard as he could in one play," he recalled. "I was like, that's how hard my friend hit me! I'm not sure if I want to be hit by somebody who dislikes me."

Colbert left the team and hasn't been a big sports fan since. "I have no opposition to organized sport. It's just not my first choice," he said. But that all changes on Super Bowl Sunday. "My wife is so great. She's like, 'Stop pretending you know how football is played. Who is this guy who just shows up in a jersey one day here? You think I'm going to buy this?'"

6. He's ready for election season.

This year will mark the fifth presidential election that Colbert will cover on TV, between his years on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and now The Late Show. And he knows from experience that after the Iowa caucus, "every single water cooler conversation in America for the next 10 months is going to be about this election," he said. "The next year is going to be great, because it's a story that everybody cares about and nobody dies. You can make any joke you want and everybody will get it, because everybody knows the story. You can go straight to your joke because, everybody already knows what the setup is. That's the great gift of the next ten months."

But Colbert is having trouble preparing his younger staffers for what's ahead. "It's like if you haven't had a baby yet. It's very hard to explain to the people who work here who haven't done the show. Like, I don't know what to tell you. You're about to get a great gift," he said. "We've been doing political stuff for months now. In some ways, we were people putting out Christmas decorations before Halloween. Well, Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting fat!"

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