So far, Stephen Colbert has not completely re-wired the late-night television machine with his particular brand of arch, sharp comedy. He still knows how to go star-powered clip to star-powered clip with the viral-mad Jimmys–Fallon and Kimmel–by, say, pondering life’s mysteries with Scarlett Johansson or “silly walking” with Lupita Nyong’o. And his writing staff, as with many shows, is rather light on female talent.
But in at least one crucial way, Colbert is breaking with years of late-night tradition by booking guests who, while certainly high-powered, are not necessarily ready for their closeups. These folks are not Hollywood A-listers, but rather stars in government, technology, and, most notably, business. One woman on The Late Show crew is largely responsible for landing them.
“We are a long way from the era of the man in the gray flannel suit,” says Emily Lazar, co-executive producer and head of talent booking at The Late Show. “Many of the CEOs we’re going after for the show are changing the world, and at a very fast pace. Our audience is interested in knowing about the people who are harnessing technology to reorder the way we live.”
Since Colbert’s premiere earlier this month, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk have been guests on the show–guests who would seem more at place on Colbert’s previous politically minded satirical platform The Colbert Report. But as Lazar explains, what she’s looking for when booking guests like inventor and designer Dominic Wilcox–who appeared on last night’s show–is the broad description of anyone at the top of their respective games, and who possesses that catchall buzzword: “authenticity.”
“If you have ideas, or if you have interests, or you have a body of knowledge that is genuine, that you have committed your life to, we are infinitely interested in that,” Lazar says. “Because at the end of the day, Stephen has to talk to a person and that person has to represent their ideas and their beliefs and their motivation persuasively. We’re looking for authenticity like everyone else.”
Here, Lazar breaks down her rationale in booking some of Colbert’s more unorthodox late-night guests.
“He may not be a household name but the Iran deal could end up being the most important piece of negotiation in our lifetime.”
“Not many people get to hear a Supreme Court justice speak on a talk show. There are nine people who interpret our constitution and basically validate what is law for 350 million people–I want to hear from one of those nine people.”
“How many hundreds of millions of people use Apple products? This is something that’s part of everyone’s life and it’s great to know who’s running the show. We can pull the curtains back on somebody who is basically creating our technological futures.”
“He’s an interesting person for us because he’s changing the equation between workers and employers and what the expectations are for people who go to work and who can work.”