Stephen Colbert: 'I'm Not Just a Pundit – I'm a Comedian'

Host talks shedding Comedy Central character, scouting other late-night shows ahead of 'Late Show' debut

Stephen Colbert talks shedding his 'Colbert Report' character and the late-night "real estate" in his final pre-'Late Show' interview Credit: CBS

In Stephen Colbert's final interview before taking over the Late Show on Tuesday, the new host talked to CBS Sunday Morning about dropping his Colbert Report persona. One of the questions facing Colbert as he ventures into late night is whether viewers will be able to separate the comedian from the faux-Conservative character he portrayed for a decade on Comedy Central.

"I mean, it's understandable -- I worked really hard to be that other guy for ten years," Colbert told CBS Sunday Morning's Mo Rocca. "I hope they'll find out pretty quickly that the guy they saw for ten years was my sense of humor the whole time. I'm not just a pundit – I'm a comedian. It is, I guess, flattering that people thought I was an actual pundit or a newsman, eventually, over the years. But it's really nice not to have to pretend it any more."

Colbert also admitted that he keeps tabs on what Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brien have been up to. "I watch those shows. I mean, I like 'em. But we're here to compete with ourselves. We're runners competing against our own time," Colbert said. 

"So you're not looking at it as real estate like, 'Okay, Lip Sync Battle is already taken. That's Jimmy Fallon's thing. So I'm gonna...' You have to do what you want to do. And those guys, I mean, Conan and Jimmy, Jimmy Number One and Jimmy Number Two – they're both friends, and they both know which one is Number One and Number Two to me, I don't have to say it on air! – I don't think you can do these shows defensively. And so you have to go with your instincts about what you like, and trust that there's somebody out there who feels the same way."

Elsewhere in the interview, Colbert opened up about the plane crash that took the life of his father and two brothers when he was just 10, and how that tragedy informed his comedy. "It certainly gives you one step back from society or what is considered normality," Colbert said. "Because it's a shock to the system to lose your father and your brothers at that age. And school and friends and homework and that value system suddenly doesn't mean anything any more. And I think it really helps if you're doing comedy, or maybe even specifically doing satire, that what seems normal no longer has status."

Colbert's first Late Show will premiere September 8th with guests George Clooney and Jeb Bush, who miffed the host by running a campaign fundraising contest to attend the taping. Colbert countered with his own charitable raffle where the winner could ask the Republican presidential candidate a non-obscene question during the inaugural episode.