Stephen Colbert has been dominating late night TV ratings for the last 10 weeks, but “The Late Show” host would trade in his 3.29 million viewers a night for just one thing: A better president.
For weeks Colbert has tapped into audiences’ anguishes and fears over just about everything President Donald Trump has managed to accomplish in his first 83 days in office, from his administration’s morally-challenged immigration policy and failed attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act to his most recent surprise airstrikes in Syria.
The late night show host’s bits on Trump and his administration’s actions provide viewers with a temporary comedic relief, which his excelling ratings prove to be favorable among audiences. But in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the 52-year-old said he’d pick poor ratings over Trump any day.
“No. I would trade good ratings for a better president,” Colbert said when asked if Trump deserved a thank you note for the surplus of viewers that have tuned into his show each night since the election.
Colbert hosted an 80-minute live special for Showtime with no breaks during the night of November 8 that was framed around candidate Hillary Clinton’s potential win. Colbert said his team had prepared material on what he’d say to audience members if it became apparent that Trump was definitely going to win while the show was taping.
That's exactly what happened and Colbert, his team and the audiences' shared feelings of anxiousness and anxiety over what was playing out in the Electoral College became painfully clear. It was that brutally raw emotion that caught viewers’ attention, which has inevitably led to Colbert’s number one spot on late night television.
“The election felt a little bit like somebody dying because you suddenly have an unreal feeling. It's unreal and yet absolutely as real as possible at the same time. You feel very raw and very base, very awake and dreaming at the same time,” he recalled. “The interesting thing is that when we were prepping all that time, we weren't waiting for Donald Trump. We were waiting for something that everybody cared about. Do you know what I mean? Donald Trump is epoch-making; he changes everything. And so we were ready for something that galvanized people's attention and changed their priorities.”
Since then, Colbert has been reaping the benefits of countrywide distress over Trump and taking a lead over “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” which has been averaging only 3.02 million viewers a night—something the staff celebrates with pizza each week.
"We bought pizza for the staff. And we've bought pizza every week. How about that? And that's great, but we've [always] got another week of shows to do,” he said. “Honest to God, it's like, "Hey! Pizza! But remember, maybe next week, no pizza. But it doesn't mean we're not doing great."