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Stephen Colbert Makes a Surprise Return to Late Night


Late night did not stay dark long.

Days after announcing that his show would be off the air for several weeks, the host of CBS’s “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” made a surprise appearance on Monday, delivering a 10-minute monologue from his bathtub.

“Welcome to my bathroom, I’m your host, Stephen Colbert,” he said at 11:35 p.m. “You’re watching a very special social distancing edition of ‘The Late Show.’”

Surrounded by bubbles, Mr. Colbert was dressed in a dark suit, sporting facial scruff and wearing AirPods. A toilet was visible in the background.

Like his fellow late night hosts — a group that includes NBC’s Jimmy Fallon, TBS’s Samantha Bee, HBO’s John Oliver and Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah — Mr. Colbert said last week that his show would suspend production until at least March 30 to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.

“I wish I could stay onstage to share this uncertain moment with you, but I don’t do this show alone, and I have to do what’s best for my staff,” Mr. Colbert said on Thursday. “Hope to be back soon.”

He was.

From his bubble bath on Monday, Mr. Colbert brandished a container of Head & Shoulders shampoo and a slice of a pear and almond cream tart he had made. He also grabbed a can of Goya beans that he said he had been hoarding.

“There’s literally hundreds of beans in this can,” he said. “One of them has to be magical. That’s just math.”

The monologue had the rapid-fire cadences of the lines he usually delivers from the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan. It included video clips of President Trump’s Monday news conference, with commentary. The host also mocked Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Monday visit to a Y.M.C.A. gym, which had been the subject of much ridicule on social media.

“Come on, Mr. Mayor. Don’t you know that during an epidemic, it’s fun to stay at your h-o-m-e,” he said, to the tune of the vintage Village People hit “Y.M.C.A.” “Cause if you don’t, we’ll be d-e-a-d.”

After the monologue, Mr. Colbert turned to a piece taped last week featuring a “Late Show” producer and his mother learning about coronavirus. The rest of the show comprised segments from a February episode.

When the late night shows went on hiatus, some observers lamented that the hosts would not be around to add comfort, humor and a skeptical voice to the national discourse as they had during earlier times of crisis.

David Letterman’s return to CBS six days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was a landmark in the genre’s history. Mr. Letterman — along with Jimmy Fallon on NBC — also broadcast episodes without a studio audience in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Veteran late night producers have also noted that moments of crisis give hosts a chance to break the rigid formats of their nightly shows.

Mr. Colbert, who has the most-watched show in late night, did not have any competition on Monday night. ABC showed a repeat of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” a night before “Nightline” temporarily takes over the 11:35 p.m. time slot. New York’s NBC affiliate, WNBC, went with the local news until midnight, pushing a repeat of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” to early Tuesday.

But Mr. Colbert’s bath tub monologue could signal weeks of do-it-yourself comedy from late night entertainers.

Two of his competitors were not entirely absent on Monday. Mr. Fallon posted a 21-second original song dedicated to hand washing to his Twitter account. And in a short video posted on YouTube, the TBS host Conan O’Brien sanitized a jigsaw puzzle by boiling its pieces while singing “Happy Birthday to You” in various accents.

When asked if Mr. Colbert would be back with a new monologue on Tuesday, a CBS spokeswoman declined to comment.



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