Somewhere out in this vast Internet terrain, someone with a quick-trigger-finger DVR and the freedom to show up at work today around noon is going to put together the definitive list of celebrities (and journo non-celebrities) who appeared with Stephen Colbert to sing “We’ll Meet Again” with him on his final episode of “The Colbert Report” last night. Every final episode of a talk show has celebrity cameos, of course, but the last “Colbert Report” was remarkable for just how many it fit in. Pretty much everyone you know, or have ever met, even at the grocery story one time, was there for a split second: I was watching the show from Georgia, and I still kind of think I saw myself on there.
It’s the sort of random “Where’s Waldo?” convocation that you can watch a dozen times and still catch people you missed the first go-around. Sure, you can’t miss Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Big Bird, or Samantha Power (with some impressive dance moves!). But each scan through the crowd surprised more. Wait, is that Eliot Spitzer? Jeffrey Toobin! A clearly uncomfortable Paul Krugman!
The sheer lunacy of even having the idea that some of these people could share a frame was staggering. In one shot: Henry Kissinger, James Franco, Bob Costas, Mike Huckabee, Tim Meadows, Patrick Stewart, Andy Cohen, Elijah Wood, and Cookie Monster. That’s like a fever dream, and that was before the pan past George Lucas, Matt Taibbi, and Toby Keith.
There were so many people that a major NBA trade went down in the green room.
This might all sound just like an absurdist piling-on of celebrity cameos for a final episode, and it was, of course. But this loopy cavalcade of “friends of the show” spoke to the grand intellectual flexibility of the show and its host. Is there another show in the history of television that could comfortably feature extended sitdowns with Cory Booker, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Barry Manilow, Gloria Steinem, and Michael Stipe? Vulture had a terrific piece yesterday about all the writers Colbert had on the show, how he was a passionate reader and willing to give unconventional thinkers and authors extended airtime on quixotic and difficult projects. All “The Colbert Report” needed you to be was interesting; Colbert would do the rest.
There has been considerable debate as to whether or not Colbert will have this same freedom on his new show: It’s one thing to book Tom Friedman for a 10-minute chat on Comedy Central and quite another to do it on CBS. That might be another thing that was unique to the “Report:” Even in the guise of a fake political program, you can bring in real political thought. Though: Colbert will have 30 more minutes of programming to fill on the new show than he does now. It’s difficult to imagine the intelligence that this show has displayed disappearing just because of moving a few channels up the dial.
After the “We’ll Meet Again” chorus was finished, we got our final sendoff, with Colbert—having conquered death earlier in the episode—hopping in a sleigh with Santa Claus, a unicorn Abraham Lincoln, and, obviously, Alex Trebek, who reminded him that all of life’s answers can be found in the form of a question. Colbert waved, and did a sincere thanking of his guests, his staff, and the Colbert Nation, and then flew away, and “The Colbert Report” was over. Though he did give us hope: In 10 years, Colbert told us, J.J. Abrams can always give it a reboot.