On Monday night’s Late Show, host Stephen Colbert had some choice words for the president. Some words he would choose differently, Colbert said Wednesday, if he were to do it again. Which, he said, he would.
Colbert’s monologue on Monday began in typical fashion for the host, who has used his criticisms of Trump to make his show the most viewed in late night. “It is Day 102 of the Trump presidency; 1,358 to go. But who’s counting?” he asked, raising his hand.
The host showed clips of a Trump interview conducted by Colbert’s CBS colleague John Dickerson, which ended with Trump cutting the conversation short after Dickerson asked whether he stood by his claim that President Obama had wiretapped him.
Colbert then played another clip in which Trump called Dickerson and others in the mainstream media the “fake media” and told Dickerson, “I love your show. I call it ‘Deface the Nation.’ ”
Colbert used those slights as an occasion to defend Dickerson’s honor by insulting Trump.
“Donald Trump: John Dickerson is a fair-minded journalist, and one of the most competent people who will ever walk into your office,” Colbert began. “And you treat him like that? Now, John Dickerson has way too much dignity to trade insults with the president of the United States to his face. But I, sir, am no John Dickerson.”
“When you insult one member of the CBS family, you insult us all,” he said. “Here we go.”
Colbert unleashed what was less a series of jokes than a 60-second barrage of insults: “Mr. Trump, your presidency, I love your presidency. I call it Disgrace The Nation. You are not the POTUS, you are the Blotus, the glutton with the button.”
Of particular note was a bleeped obscenity about Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The backlash was immediate, and the #FireColbert hashtag began trending, along with calls to boycott advertisers on Colbert’s show.
The off-color joke about Trump and Putin was branded “homophobic” by journalist Glenn Greenwald and others.
Which in turn brought a backlash to the backlash.
In his opening monologue on Wednesday, Colbert addressed the controversy. “Welcome to The Late Show; I’m your host, Stephen Colbert,” he said. “Still? Am I still the host?
“I’m still the host!” he said, arms held high in victory.
“Now, folks, if you saw my monologue Monday, you know that I was a little upset with Donald Trump for insulting a friend of mine,” he said. “So, at the end of that monologue, I had a few choice insults for the president in return. I don’t regret that.
“I believe he can take care of himself. I have jokes; he has the launch codes. So it’s a fair fight. So while I would do it again, I would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be.”
Apparently addressing the accusations of homophobia, Colbert added, “Life is short. Anyone who expresses their love for another person in their own way is to me an American hero. And I think we can all agree on that. I hope even the president and I can agree on that. Nothing else, but that.”
Colbert has been winning the late-night ratings war for the past 13 weeks, a hot streak that began two weeks into Trump’s presidency. But last week was his narrowest victory yet over NBC’s Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
It could be that the attention was just what Colbert and his writers had in mind all along. Monday’s monologue has racked up more than 4 million YouTube views as of Thursday afternoon.