Stephen Colbert ended his first month as The Late Show host by opting to tackle tragedy head on with a powerful monologue that examined yet another “senseless” mass shooting, this time at an Oregon college that left 10 people dead, and our own “insanity” for doing nothing to prevent the next one. Like his predecessor David Letterman, Colbert elected to confront a serious issue gripping our country, even as late-night television is generally regarded as a comedic haven from the harsh realities.
“Whether or not we hit the right notes on any given night, I think that the least that we can do is not pretend to always know what to do or say, and in the face of the killings in Oregon yesterday I don’t know what to do or say, other than our hearts are broken for the people struck by this senseless tragedy,” Colbert said. “And I don’t know how to start a show like this, which is often about whatever happened in the last 24 hours. I can’t pretend that it didn’t happen; I also can’t pretend to know what to do to prevent what happened yesterday and all the times it has happened before. But I think pretending is part of the problem.”
Without taking sides or politicizing the incident, Colbert still criticized lawmakers for their overall inaction. “These things happen over and over again and we’re naturally horrified and shocked when we hear about them, but then we change nothing, and we pretend that it won’t happen again. Some say the answer is stricter gun laws; others say the answer is mental health care, that we need better treatment or just keep the guns out of the hands of the insane. Maybe it’s both, I honestly don’t know,” Colbert said. “But I do know that one of the definitions of insanity is changing nothing and then pretending that something will change.”
After Colbert’s moving speech, the host brought some levity back to The Late Show by discussing “honest insanity” in the form of Donald Trump. “Mr. Trump, to answer your call for political honesty, I just want to say: You’re not going to be president,” Colbert said. “There is zero chance we’ll be seeing you being sworn in on the Capitol steps with your hand on a giant golden Bible.”
Colbert’s monologue was reminiscent of his former colleague Jon Stewart’s heartbreaking remarks on The Daily Show in the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting in June. “I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend it doesn’t exist,” Stewart said before admitting, “I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit. Yeah. That’s us.”