With less than a month to go before Stephen Colbert takes over CBS' Late Show, the host spoke for the first time about replacing David Letterman, what he learned from hanging out with the late-night legend, rooting for Donald Trump to succeed and his Late Show plans. At the Television Critics Association press event in Los Angeles Monday, Colbert also revealed that Kendrick Lamar would serve as his first musical guest on September 7th (the rapper was selected to be the Colbert Report's final musical guest in December).
Colbert reiterated that he is abandoning his Colbert Report persona in his move from Comedy Central to CBS, if only because his celebrity guests don't deserve their interviews being about him. "One of the reasons why I most wanted to drop the character is that I felt I had done everything I could do with him other than have my honest interest in my guest," Colbert said (via the New York Times). "Which is almost constant. Now I feel actually more freed up. That was in some ways the most energetic, the most exciting part of the show to me and now I don't have to hold back at all."
Colbert also told critics that he spent one of David Letterman's final Late Show days following the host around and asking questions. When Colbert asked Letterman what he wished he did differently about the Ed Sullivan Theatre set, Letterman said he wished the host's desk was on the other side of the stage; Colbert took that advice and flipped the positioning of the desk from stage left to stage right.
"I asked him do you mind me asking you these questions? He said 'No. Nobody ever asked me these questions before,'" Colbert said of his talk with Letterman (via Variety). "It was a very gracious way for him to say that only the person sitting in that chair would care about the answers." Letterman also showed Colbert how to use the freight elevator that connects the host's office to the stage floor, something Colbert viewed as a torch-passing moment.
As for Colbert's moving Daily Show tribute to an uncomfortable Jon Stewart – the host wanted to run off the stage when he realized Colbert was there to deliver a "Thank You" on behalf of the staff – the former Daily Show correspondent said, "I told producers he’s going flop around like a fish on the dock. I felt like a rodeo clown trying to keep him on the stage." Following the moving speech, all the former correspondents rushed the stage, embracing in a giant hug. While their chant was drowned out by music, Colbert revealed that they were all shouting, "Made him cry! Made him cry!"
Although entering a crowded late-night battlefield already populated by Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, Colbert said he doesn't view the 11:30 p.m. slot as a "war." "Competition’s not that fun to me," he said. “I hope everybody does the same and has fantastic ratings. I don’t really care."
Colbert's one wish for when he starts next month: That Donald Trump is still a relevant contender for the Republican presidential ticket. "Every little boy grows up believing they could be president of the United States. I’m so happy that little boy is Donald Trump. Please stay healthy until I get on the air," Colbert said. "Every night before I go to bed, I light a candle and pray that he stays in the race, and I also pray that no one puts that candle anywhere near his hair."