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The 'Real' Stephen Colbert? You Just Met Him - Interviewing Joe Biden
September 11, 2015  | By David Bianculli  | 5 comments

Well, that didn’t take long.

Stephen Colbert revealing his true self and conducting an impressive, important interview as the new host of CBS’s Late Show? Three days in, Colbert did it – with his questions, empathy, and patient silence – while interviewing Vice President Joe Biden Thursday night…

You knew Colbert would ask the question of Biden, whether he was planning to enter the presidential race for 2016 – and he did. But not before asking some other questions, personal ones about loss and grief and faith and paternal love, that framed that other answer in much more than purely political terms.

After a few quick pleasantries and jokes, Colbert offered condolences to Biden regarding the death of his son Beau earlier this year. Biden responded by telling one story, then another, about his late son – a heartfelt, moving tribute that ran one minute and 43 seconds without Colbert interrupting at all.

That’s an eternity in TV talk-show time. And Colbert’s next question, about how Biden handled that and other losses with such grace, elicited an even longer reply from Biden. One minute, 52 seconds this time, in which Biden kept deflecting the attention, and the credit, away from himself. Pointing to the studio audience in the Ed Sullivan Theater, and by extension the show’s millions of viewers at home, Biden said he was far from alone at experiencing grief, or maintaining afterward in spite of it.

“I marvel at the ability to absorb hurt and get back up,” Biden said of people in general – echoing a Mark Twain quote about man’s ability to absorb and deal with tragic news (“It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man, all unprepared, can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live”).

Biden then made it personal – to Colbert. “You’re one of them, buddy.”

It was Biden, not Colbert, who referenced the talk show host’s own past personal tragedies – losing his father and two brothers in a commercial plane crash when he was a boy, and his mother more recently. Colbert didn’t bring it up himself. Even when Colbert asked Biden a question about his religious faith, and Biden answered at length, Colbert never alluded to his own.

Colbert kept the spotlight, and the microphone, squarely on Biden – though you were seeing the “real” Colbert, quite clearly, by the questions he was asking, the space he was giving, and the empathy he was radiating. Even the well-written jokey questions were delivered expertly: “I want to give your office the respect it deserves,” Colbert told the Vice President. “How much is that?”

By the time, after a commercial break, that Colbert asked Biden about running for President in 2016, the Vice President’s answer seemed more consistent than evasive. He didn’t know whether he could be properly committed to the effort – and, if not, he shouldn’t even try. Colbert, in saying farewell, all but begged him to run, but also thanked him for his service regardless.

I’d like to thank Stephen Colbert for his service as well. His conversation with Biden won’t translate easily into swift sound bites or viral video. But as an example of what a talk show can provide – actual, meaningful conversation – Colbert’s visit with Biden was all the proof we needed that Colbert will be bringing something valuable to broadcast TV's late-night arena.
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Yes. Yes to Colbert. And, Yes to Biden. To listen in to a moving conversation that
is both intimate and universal. Kudos.
Sep 12, 2015   |  Reply
I agree that this was a terrific interview. I saw the first night of the show and found it okay, but not that great. I planned to give it a chance, but somehow it didn't record the second night. Doesn't sound like I missed much. But I'm so glad that I did record this one. It was wonderful. I really like Biden anyway, and this interview was special. I just hope Colbert keeps up the quality he has so quickly established. I might even start watching late night again. I used to like Craig Ferguson because, even though some of his shtick got a little old, he had more interesting guests and he seemed genuinely interested in what they had to say. Most of them didn't go on the show to plug something; or, even if they did, he always asked unexpected questions that got them off the plug. There was a real gap when he left. I still remember the show with Stephen Fry--fascinating. I hope Colbert will have similarly interesting guests and provide meaningful conversation.
Sep 11, 2015   |  Reply
I agree. One of the most deeply moving interviews in recent memory expertly handled by Colbert. For someone who is often mocked for an occasional gaffe, Biden took my breath away!
Sep 11, 2015   |  Reply
I blamed opening night jitters for the first couple of Colbert shows. And let's face it -- George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson are both nice to look at but couldn't be more boring. I was afraid Colbert's Late Show would sink to that Hollywood celebrity worship so evident on the competing shows. Last night was the proof I was seeking that Colbert will have interesting guests and can be an astonishingly good interviewer. I knew he had it in him. Now we've all seen it. I couldn't agree with you more.
Sep 11, 2015   |  Reply
I've kept an eye on Biden's progress over the years,having attended the same high school as Biden (with many of the same teachers) and reading a poignant story in the Philadelphia Inquirer of Joe's life after the horrible accident that befelled his family in 1972. Back then,Joe thought of not even taking the oath for his Senate seat,but did so on the condition of being home every night. Those commuter train stories-all true,so he could see his sons at days end. The standard VP jokes about Joe ring hollow,outside of the ones that he particpates in. Deep down there is a smart, moral guy,trying to do the right thing for others. Joe & I do not share the same religious faith mowadays,but know that this is a man that fits the description of Christian to a tee. Colbert,same faith,is right up there. Neither wears it on their sleeve They don't block doors for some,they open doors for everyone.
Sep 11, 2015   |  Reply
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