Screen: Comedy Central

'Stephen Colbert' Is Dead/Immortal. Long Live Stephen Colbert!

The Colbert Report signs off with a moment that hints at how delightfully weird The Late Show With Stephen Colbert might be.

Having months of buildup to the end of The Colbert Report means we already said individual goodbyes to the show's various characters and segments and important pieces of memorabilia before arriving at last night's series finale. And knowing that it won't be that long before Stephen Colbert moves on to his next job in television, as host of The Late Show, kept said finale from being too maudlin. I mean, if he's not retiring from showbiz entirely, there's no reason to get a Bette Midler in to serenade him; better by far to get as many luminaries into the studio as he can to join in a hearty singalong.

(Maybe one of those people on stage would have liked to be singled out for special attention: once again -- and for the last time -- apologies to Doris Kearns Goodwin.)

But as lovely as the song is, and as effective in showing that influential people have loved the Report so much that they'd turn out for a segment like this even if they are clearly terrified of even pretending to sing in public -- I see you, Paul Krugman and Segway guy -- there was another that struck me even harder. The genius of The Colbert Report has, all along, been the "Colbert" character and the ways Colbert and his writers have deployed him in the service of the most incisive political satire of our time -- I mean, duh, we know this. And many have commented on the potential loss to the culture when Colbert is no longer "Colbert" but just a dude doing straight-ahead interviews on his next show. But that's why it's so important that the singalong is followed immediately by that coda with Santa, Alex Trebek, and UNICORN LINCOLN.

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Before Stephen Colbert played the character that made him world-famous, he was a sketch-comedy goof; I mean, you don't come up in comedy collaborating with Amy Sedaris if you don't have a surrealist streak and/or if there isn't something deeply weird about you. This final episode showed us definitively that "Stephen Colbert" never can and never will die, so we don't really have to say goodbye to him at all. We do get to reacquaint ourselves with a guy who'll be hilarious playing lots of different kinds of freaks. It's going to be great.

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