When the Broadway theater district closed down in March of 2020, TV host Stephen Colbert had a lot of decisions to make about the future of his show and was forced to pivot in a huge way.
But the resourceful talk show host/comedian who resides in Montclair, New Jersey, and got his start in Chicago’s famed Second City improv troupe quickly pivoted to providing nightly entertainment from his home, surrounded by his wife, Evelyn “Evie” Colbert, two sons, and a socially-distanced group of dedicated crew members.
Recently, Colbert and Evelyn, president of the Montclair Film Board, joined Tom Hall, the organization’s executive director, for a virtual conversation about The Future of Montclair Film, the most successful online event in the organization’s history, raising more than $150,000 to support Montclair Film’s mission.
With Broadway re-opening in September alongside many New Jersey theaters, Montclair Film is currently planning an in-person 10th annual Montclair Film Festival, taking place October 21 through October 30. The organization will also continue to present virtual programs reaching audiences around the world through the power of their Virtual Cinema platform, powered by Eventive.
Opening night of the 10th Annual Montclair Film Festival will be held on October 21 at The Wellmont Theater in Montclair and is proud to announce that its Closing Night Gala, celebrating the 10th anniversary, will take place October 30 at NJPAC in Newark, NJ.
The May 7 virtual event was a fundraiser for Montclair Film, a film, and arts organization in New Jersey led by Founder and Chairman of the Board Bob Feinberg, and President of the Board, Evelyn Colbert. The lively event included highlights from Colbert’s previous one-on-one conversations at fundraisers for the film festival with Jimmy Fallon, Meryl Streep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Rob Reiner, Ben Stiller, J.J. Abrams, Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and Rachel Weisz.
Stephen and Evelyn also shared their stories of dating and falling in love, his commute to Manhattan, their shared love for arts and entertainment, and how both of them worked hard to keep The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, his CBS talk show thriving virtually throughout the pandemic.
Monsters & Critics: Stephen, when did you first know the show would have to be done virtually?
Stephen Colbert: I remember it distinctly. The first leading indicator that we wouldn’t be able to do our show was not us it was when [the film festival] SXSW canceled. Evie and I executive produced the movie Derek Delgaudio’s In & Of Itself, which ended up premiering at the Montclair Film Festival. It was meant to premiere at SXSW and I think six days before we were about to premiere at a lovely venue in Texas.
We were going to come down to eat BBQ, and we had the week off, and we were going to hang out, it was going to be fun, and we were going to be in Texas and it was going to be great. And they said, ‘yeah, we’re canceling.’
That was supposed to be on [March] 13, 2020, because on the 12th, the Governor of New York shut down all of Broadway, as he should have.
I just remember, I have a photo on my phone that I’ve just found out all of Broadway is shutting down and no one on my staff knows yet. And I’m shutting down because The Ed Sullivan Theater is a Broadway theater. It’s just me looking at the stage, wondering when I get to come back in here again. And it’s not happened yet and it’s been almost 14 months now.
M&C: Tell me the sweet story of how the two of you met?
Stephen Colbert: In college, a friend of mine, who had been trying to get us together for years, came up to visit me. I was a freshman in college and he was a senior in high school, and we went to a frat party, and he knew her. He said, “Stephen come over here,” and I had indulged already in that evening.
So, I did this dance called “the worm,” not the gator kinda worm but a different one and I wormed over to her and like “Hey, it’s Evie McGee” this girl whose name I had heard growing up and I knew her name because it was such a friendly kinda ‘Hardy Boys’ kinda name.
Evelyn Colbert: The worm [dance] was a disaster. The night we actually met, in the lobby of the (June 1990) Charleston Spoleto festival featuring Phillip Glass and Alan Ginsburg, Stephen walked in with his mother on his arm and I remember thinking, “That man loves his mother.” And you could see how proud he was of her, and I found that so attractive.
Stephen Colbert: We only met because my sister couldn’t come that night and mom said, “I have an extra ticket; do you want to come?”
M&C: Tell me about your early commute for work from Montclair to Manhattan.
Stephen Colbert: I love it out here. A month after we got here there was a direct train into the city.
Evelyn Colbert: I think of your commute based on where you would eat.
Stephen Colbert: That’s when I would drive; I would go to Paulie Pizza on Route 3. My greatest joy after a long night of shooting just to roll into Paulie, there was an old man sitting there and he didn’t talk, you didn’t talk, and he would give me a slice.
I love a good commute. You can listen to music and by the time you get home, you are yourself again. In Manhattan, I am a stress monster, but after 12 miles I am a human being, mostly.
M&C: Talk about filming at home during COVID-19, in which you did a lot of innovative production including an episode in your bathtub.
Stephen Colbert: We went to South Carolina for five months, where my family was the crew. We were very lucky because not everybody else had a job that we could continue. It was a spare bedroom with a bunch of cables coming in through the window and a satellite truck parked on the lawn, killing the grass.
M&C: Please tell me more about Evie handling production on Stephen’s show when it went virtual in March 2020 because of the pandemic.
Evelyn Colbert: I remembering saying that I became a master at Zoom because of your show that I did in Charleston I feel like there were 12 different calls just to put the show up. It was like a Tom Cruise movie. Your lovely people would talk me through everything, they’d be like, okay, crawl behind the sofa, turn on, no not the red button! Turn on the black button, turn it on, now okay…
Stephen Colbert: You know people ask, how do you balance your professional life and your home life? I’ve found the best thing to do is to not balance them at all, just make them the same thing! It turns out working together has been pretty great!
You have had conversations with many celebrity guests for the 10 years of Montclair Film Festival fundraisers, including Meryl Streep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Jimmy Fallon.
Stephen Colbert: Yes. I want to give a shoutout to my brother in arms, Jimmy Fallon. Everyone thinks that late-night people are at each other’s throats and that’s an old paradigm. It just doesn’t exist anymore. I remember thinking, who will I ask this year?
I called him up and said, “Hey can I ask you a question? Could I ask you to do a benefit?” and he said, “Absolutely, where is it and when do you want me to do it?” and I was so struck by how this wasn’t an act.
He’s just really a lovely guy and didn’t know what it was. He just knew I needed someone and wanted to do it for me. So, I will always be grateful to him for being who you think he is. Which is “I am here in a moment for whatever you need.”
M&C: Stephen, please talk about your love for performing in front of a live audience.
Stephen Colbert: I really love a live audience, but for the last 14 months, no audience and no staff. They are working, but I don’t spend any time with them. It’s like trying to defuse a bomb with mittens on. There is something missing on the show because there is no feedback at all; it feels like I am shouting my show into an empty Altoids tin and throwing it off an overpass onto the Interstate.
When you do a live show, you know it works because the audience makes this sound, and you know you’ve made a connection. Now it’s all theory. I learned to play this instrument over the past 30 years, the instrument is my relationship with the audience and the laughter, and now I go out every night and I just read sheet music. You don’t sing it, you just read the music. A year of that was fine, but I am ready for it to be over.
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert airs on CBS Monday through Friday at 11:35 p.m. ET.