Stephen Colbert is the only person who has an idea of what it’s like to be Bill O’Reilly on TV every night other than O’Reilly himself. For nine years, he played “Stephen Colbert,” a conservative blowhard pundit based almost entirely on O’Reilly’s style of hosting The O’Reilly Factor.
And now that Fox has let O’Reilly go ... well, Colbert wanted to say a few words.
“He’s been a guest on this show, and I take no pleasure in his downfall,” the Late Show host said, to skeptical laughs. “I’m not going to sit here and publicly gloat.”
So he asked his cameraman to take the camera off him, at which point the applause from his studio audience got so loud that I can only imagine the offscreen gloat it was responding to.
Colbert acknowledged that he “owe[s] a lot to Bill O’Reilly,” after spending nine years in character as him (and “12 months in therapy to de-bloviate myself”). He even made a rare appearance as his old character “Stephen Colbert” to say goodbye, live from the log cabin he apparently shares with Jon Stewart. The former Colbert Report host then scolded the nation for turning against O’Reilly before choking out a sobbed, “Stay strong, Papa Bear!”
Colbert (the Late Show host, not his character) did concede that O’Reilly was, as Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox said in its official statement on his ouster, “accomplished” by ratings standards. “But by moral standards,” Colbert continued, “he was a self-righteous landfill of angry garbage.”
Colbert also reminded his audience that O’Reilly has been racking up accusations of sexual harassment for years. “We all saw this coming at us,” he said, “like an old man cornering an intern in the break room.”
TV will undoubtedly be different without O’Reilly raining down unholy outrage on Fox News every night. But for O’Reilly’s fans, Colbert did manage to find a silver lining: “In case you’re a fan of sexual harassers who are on TV all the time,” he said with a smirk, “we still have Donald Trump.”