Stephen Colbert started off his show looking almost as excited about it as his audience was. He opened with a rendition of the national anthem, sung with a lot of different people across a lot of different regions of the country, a sequence that ended with a Jon Stewart cameo. Then the show cut back to the studio, where Colbert sprinted out to music from Jon Batiste and Stay Human while the crowd gave him a standing ovation and chanted "Stephen" over and over again, which would occur repeatedly throughout the night.
His show debuted a mix of the old and the new — Colbert did the traditional opening monologue, with jokes about the Ashley Madison hack and the possibility of CBS head Les Moonves, who was in attendance, canceling him in favor of old reruns of "The Mentalist." His opening credit sequence definitely stood out. Instead of footage of the host, it's a series of miniatures of famous New York landmarks. And if you thought the announcer sounded a lot like Colbert himself, well, it was. Will he do it every night, or will he eventually hire someone to help out?
Before he brought out his first guest, he continued his monologue behind the desk, which ranged from a sweet tribute to David Letterman to an ongoing series of Donald Trump jokes accompanied by stuffing his face with Oreos (because Trump has decided never to eat Oreos again, after Nabisco moved a factory to Mexico). And in a show of cross-network unity, Jimmy Fallon checked in via video to tell his new peer good luck. The segment was interrupted by a lengthy product placement bit from Sabra hummus, which Colbert insisted he was forced to do by a demonic amulet stored on his set.
The Oreo bit definitely seemed to reflect how much Colbert has missed having the opportunity to crack jokes about the man who's been dominating the current election cycle. Suffice to say, Trump should probably take some time to come on this show as well, lest Colbert keep calling him an "oompaloompamerican" because of his spray tan.
His first official guest was George Clooney, who didn't have a project to promote (though a preview for a movie he's producing starring Sandra Bullock played during the commercial break). Instead, Clooney and Colbert invented a fake action movie for him to star in called "Decision Strike," and played prerecorded clips of Clooney goofing around backstage on an obviously fake, hastily thrown together set for the movie. Colbert also chatted with Clooney about his Darfur activism, and gifted him with a paperweight from Tiffany's that was engraved with the phrase "I don't know you," to commemorate how the two aren't secret famous person friends.
His second interview of the evening was Jeb Bush, who seemed excited to be there, if a little nervous (just like Colbert himself, really). After giving Bush the opportunity to explain, uninterrupted, why he thought he should be president, Colbert pointed out a few of his own family members in the audience. It seemed harmless, until he got to his brother, who he said had very different political views from him. Oh, and did Jeb and his brother differ politically? It was a sly way to ask a question everyone is wondering — the first Bush brother certainly inspired some strong opinions during and after his administration. Jeb was willing to say one thing he and George W differed on. He said he thought his brother could have been more fiscally responsible.
The show wrapped up with a performance of "Everyday People," which started out as a song from Jon Batiste and Stay Human, before a host of other people joined them onstage, including Ben Folds, Zach Condon of Beirut, Buddy Guy, Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes and Mavis Staples, who took it all home with a little accompaniment from Colbert himself.
There were a few small issues here and there (Colbert flubbed a few lines, and at one point the lighting made poor Clooney look like an oompaloompamerican), but overall, it seemed like a pretty confident debut. Plus, to further put to rest any concerns about competition between the late night hosts, the last thing viewers saw was Colbert and Jimmy Fallon saying goodbye to each other in a fake locker room. Colbert gave a kiss to a picture of a very young Jon Stewart that he'd taped up in his locker. Fallon, naturally, had a picture of Colbert.