Since launching his Late Show last fall, Stephen Colbert has welcomed presidential candidates including Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders to sit beside him in the Ed Sullivan Theater and make their case to American voters. But when Hillary Clinton appeared on the show Monday night — hours before polls opened in the crucial New York primary — the setting was markedly different.
Rather than conduct the interview in front of his live studio audience, Colbert opted to speak with Clinton seated across a table from the candidate in an empty Carnegie Deli. The piece, which was evidently taped late last week, had a far cozier vibe than some of the host’s previous political interviews, including a confrontational and awkward conversation with John Kasich back in February.
This was Clinton’s second visit to Colbert’s Late Show (she made two appearances on The Colbert Report, one during the 2008 primary and one in 2014 to promote her latest memoir) and she seemed seriously at ease with the genial host. And while the name Bernie Sanders barely came up when they talked six months ago, this time it shockingly didn’t get mentioned once.
Instead, Colbert began with the man he presumed will be Clinton’s general election rival. “Politics seem to be finding common ground,” the host said. “What do you have in common with your likely opponent Donald Trump, other than the fact you have beautiful daughters and you both were at his wedding?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’m not sure what I have in common with him,” Clinton said, pivoting away as fast as possible. “However when you are president and you’re working with the Congress, there are lots of opportunities to find common ground.” When Colbert asked why in the world she wants to return to Washington, D.C., the candidate stressed how much better she will be at doing the job of president compared to running what has been at times an uninspiring campaign.
Then, just when you thought Colbert might bring up Clinton’s opponent in this week’s New York primary, he changed the subject to talk about what kind of grandmother she is and did an extended bit in which he taught her how to properly eat cheesecake in front of reporters at campaign stops.
And that was it. Colbert jokingly asked if she was OK splitting the check and then comically ran out the door and down the street.
Realistically, no one could have expected Colbert to go that hard on Hillary Clinton in a setting like this one. It’s not like he was going to bring up #Benghazi or force her to explain her “damn emails.” But why not at least give her a chance to discuss the enthusiasm gap between her campaign and Sanders’? Or perhaps ask her about one thing that might affect New Yorkers’ lives?
It was hard not to imagine how his alter ego from The Colbert Report would have used his signature satirical approach to make Clinton confront real, substantive issues at the heart of this contentious race. But apparently, that really was the old Colbert.
If any New Yorkers tuned in Monday night to see how a man who we all know is capable of delivering insightful and funny political commentary might challenge the Democratic frontrunner, they were undoubtedly disappointed.