There’s a recurring segment on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” that’s just as good as anything else on TV.
It’s not the Big Furry Hat proclamations, stacked with one-liners about bizarre human behavior and dumb phrases people insist on using. It’s not Midnight Confessions, where Stephen Colbert “admits” to activities and thoughts that aren’t actually sins. And it’s not his nightly monologue, which, misguided phrasing aside, has angled closer and closer to the tightly constructed jabs of Colbert’s Comedy Central days.
All of those are solid, but the best “The Late Show” segment doesn’t have a name and it doesn’t happen on a regular basis.
It happens whenever Colbert stumbles over a joke.
Colbert is a pro’s pro. Classically trained in the theater arts, he’s quick to drop a Robert Fagles reference into a loving personal anecdote. But even the best of us get tongue-tied every once in a while, and Colbert has turned the process of recovering from a blooper into an art form.
It has its roots in “the old show,” where an elevated spin on a viewer prank led to the greatest character break in the history of “The Colbert Report.”
Now freed from his pundit persona, the free-wheeling “Late Show” days have brought a few more times when Colbert has found the sublime in the slip-up. Even in the face of unexpected verbal obstacles, malfunctioning props and the occasional reflexive four-letter word, Colbert’s most genuine late-night moments have come after a minor mistake.
We’ve ranked the best of them below (and pointed out what tips you can learn from the master).
Joke target: Twitter polls
Culprit word/phrase: “midnight”
Recovery Tip: When it doubt, always tap in Paul F. Tompkins.
Joke target: An unholy Burger King/Cheeto alliance
Culprit word/phrase: “storm”
Recovery Tip: Also a good stall tactic!
Joke target: Star Wars
Culprit word/phrase: “statistically”
Recovery Tip: All else fails, turn the moment into a mouth muscle exercise.
Joke target: Food bringing happy news
Culprit word/phrase: “Guess what?”
Recovery Tip: Just make up a new word. (“Twomp…?”)
Joke target: Sperm donors
Culprit word/phrase: “futon”
Recovery Tip: Slip-ups can also serve as a helpful bit of quality control for monologue material.
Joke target: Life Hacks
Culprit word/phrase: “Pringles”
Recovery Tip: Skip to 2:50 and you’ll see that bloopers do not provide in-segment immunity.
Up next: broken props, nightmare fuel and swearing on live TV