Between every conceivable event being canceled and waves of life-and-death (mis)information continuously breaking, life in the time of the coronavirus pandemic gets more surreal by the hour. Just take Thursday night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the first episode of which to go without an audience after New York City shut down theaters (and large gatherings in general) in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
It’s fascinating to see Colbert essentially work out his material on the air, with only a smattering of his staffers in the Ed Sullivan Theater’s seats. The host recalls his first-ever Late Show rehearsal, delivers various quips about current events (read: coronavirus), hand sanitizes after touching his lips, sips from a glass of bourbon, chats with his trusty bandleader Jon Batiste—at one point challenging him to calm him down using music more effectively than his beverage can—and just sort of hangs out, cutting up. It’s like watching a sitcom without a laugh track: The material just sits there, adorned by nothing but its own merits, with Colbert effectively unable to kill or bomb, aside from however he fares in your home. It’s quite satisfying when he’s able to crack his staff up, though—a joke at the Knicks’ expense slays Batiste, as does a physical bit later on, and his delight is … sorry, it’s contagious. It is.
There’s something wonderfully comforting about the monologue, despite the eeriness of all that silence. People are scared and confused out there, and it’s cathartic to see that we’re not alone in that. Even Stephen Colbert is uneasy, wondering what’s going to happen. Who knows? Maybe someday, it’ll be all we’re left with: Small groups of people sitting around, doing their best to make the best of their situations, trying to make each other smile.
Watch Colbert’s audience-less monologue below.