On Thursday, news broke that New York City’s Broadway productions had been forced to go dark in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, and since “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” is taped in a theater that’s literally on Broadway, it had to scramble to allow the show to go on.
Fifteen seconds into Colbert’s Thursday “Late Show” monologue, which aired on CBS last night and has since been posted to the show’s YouTube channel with the title “When Rehearsal Becomes The Show,” he asks his cameraman to show a shot of the audience. It consists of a couple dozen members of his staff—who, to their credit, do a pretty good job of supplying laughter without overdoing it—plus Jon Batiste and the band are also on hand, per usual. But there’s still an overall sense of eerie quiet throughout the segment.
Colbert quickly takes a seat at his desk where he explains that his show, which had originally planned to go audience-free starting this coming Monday, was abruptly compelled to step up that schedule, so “we’re just kind of winging it.” He makes jokes about “viral marketing” (“we will never be using that phrase again”) and the New York Knicks, shows a groaner of a clip from a supposedly retooled Broadway “West Side Story” production (cue dancers in hazmat suits), and declares that finding out that “American treasure” Tom Hanks has coronavirus “is like learning that the Liberty Bell has herpes.”
He also takes multiple sips from a glass of bourbon. You might want to do something similar while watching the segment—another surreal example of the new normal.
Colbert’s show will go on pause starting next week, as will “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” Last night’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” featured a previously-arranged fill-in host, former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, also performing without a proper live audience.