Stephen Colbert Reveals How It Feels To Film The Late Show In An Empty Room

Stephen Colbert pantsless early in his career before The Late Show

Comedy comes in all forms, and now that social media and platforms like TikTok exist, it’s not abnormal for comedians to record jokes in a dark room by themselves in the hope they gain some laughs after the fact. For more old school comedians, like Stephen Colbert with his Late Show with Stephen Colbert, it’s a little out of character to be spitting off jokes without an audience. With the pandemic still in motion though, Colbert is still writing his show from home like he has been for the last year and recording in studio with a skeleton staff. He has now shared just what the shift in circumstances feels like with no live audience to laugh at his jokes in real time.

While you may think it’s easier to pull off a joke without the pressure of a live audience, Stephen Colbert actually finds it a lot more difficult. In an interview with NPR, Colbert says the lack of adrenaline that comes with performing in front of people is missing when recording from home, and for a seasoned professional like himself, that makes it way easier for him to mess up. Here it is in his own words:

It's much harder without an audience. ... There's some vital performance adrenaline spark that's missing. I'm much, much more likely to mess up and have to retake something, lose the rhythm of a joke, or even just misread the prompter.

It may be that Stephen Colbert is just so used to working under the pressure of an audience that he produces jokes better that way. Sure, people who are used to telling their jokes over platforms like TikTok are probably more comfortable that way and would find the opposite true if they were to all a sudden be in front of a live audience. It's not true for Colbert at least. He may have a few members on staff to share the full delivery of jokes with, but it's very different from the live audience of fans he has been used to prior to COVID.

Being isolated while working and writing his jokes and filming without an audience doesn’t exactly play off of Stephen Colbert’s love of being around people, either. In the same interview, Colbert says that he is very much a people person and misses being around his crew on the regular, given there are usually only a few staff members around and most writing is done over video. It is a more "lonely" way of working, he says. Here’s exactly how he puts it:

I miss people. I really like the company of people. I miss going to dinner. I'm a hugger. I like hugging people randomly. I feel lonely a lot. I go to the theater to actually produce the show. We rewrite everything from home, everybody's at home, and myself and a very small group of people ... I only see about four or five of them ... others come in at staggered intervals throughout the day, come into this little storage closet where we do the show and I do the show, and I leave as quickly as I can. So we're all together for the shortest possible period of time, maybe a couple hours, and then we all go home and get ready to write the show from home again the next day. And it's lonely. I got into show business in a way to not be alone. Like a lot of comedians, I'm a bit of a broken toy.

I didn’t need to be sad today, Stephen Colbert! His words are pretty heartbreaking. It is true, a lot of comedians end up having emotional or addiction issues and seek to use their work as a way to cope. You don’t have to look further than celebrities like icon Robin Williams or Brody Stevens. The pandemic has surely been tough on people with depression who get positive energy from people around other people, and while Colbert may not relate to some of the issues listed above, he sounds like a personality who needs people around.

Even though it has been quite the transition for a lot of people, the fact that we have been able to make accommodations during this time to still have things we care about is uplifting. Stephen Colbert may have to write his show from home without seeing his jokes hit, but at least he is still able to reach his audience. And honestly, a world without a little late night Colbert would be bleaker. Plus, at least he doesn't have to wear pants... not that Stephen Colbert did all the time before!

Carlie Hoke
Content Writer

Constantly thinking about books, coffee, and the existential dread I feel from Bo Burnham’s Inside.  While writing I’m also raising a chaotic toddler, who may or may not have picked up personality traits from watching one too many episodes of Trailer Park Boys.