Stephen Colbert has signed on to the Black Lives Matter movement. At least, that’s what his wristband says. Only a week into his new gig hosting “The Late Show,” Colbert made a statement of solidarity Friday after accepting a bracelet from a member of the audience, Black Lives Matter activist Patrick Waldo.
“I'm gonna put you on the spot right now,” said Waldo before the show’s taping, according to an Instagram post, “and ask you to wear this Black Lives Matter wristband on the show, and say Black Lives Matter at least once during the show because I think your audience needs to hear it!"
According to Waldo, Colbert didn’t miss a beat: "Bring it to me," he said, and he snapped it onto his wrist. Waldo also said Colbert promised to bring up the movement by name in a future episode.
Speaking with International Business Times on Monday, Waldo commended Colbert's gesture and hoped more is coming.
"For a TV personality as powerful and influential as Stephen Colbert to be put on the spot like that, asked to wear this bracelet for Black Lives Matter and then put it on and wear it for the entire show, it means so much," he said over email.
A spokesperson for CBS declined to comment Monday.
The question of how political Colbert would be at “The Late Show” occupied much of the media commentary surrounding his CBS debut. “[I]t’ll be interesting to see if Colbert’s presumed liberalism comes through more clearly in his new show,” wrote the Christian Science Monitor. Then he opened with “sharp political humor,” the Baltimore Sun reported. The Atlantic raved: “Colbert’s latest debut suggested that late-night comedy might actually play a role in fixing [politics].”
Now, by adopting the slogan of what’s arguably the most hot-button social movement in the country since Occupy Wall Street or the tea party insurgency, Colbert himself made it clear: No, he is not dialing back his politics.
Politics As More Than Fodder
It’s true that the former Comedy Central host had already signaled he’d be covering Washington by inviting presidential candidate Jeb Bush as his first guest last week, and dedicating the lion’s share of his monologue jokes to politics. But politics has provided talk show hosts with both guests and jokes for decades now: Elections, scandals, and the overall presidency of George W. Bush were always fodder for the late-night monologues.
President Barack Obama himself brought the two worlds closer in recent years when he made history as the first sitting president to appear on a late-night show in a 2009 appearance on “The Tonight Show.” Politics is such a well-tread topic on late night nowadays that it's become virtually apolitical.
Colbert’s nod to Black Lives Matter, on the other hand, is a specific endorsement of a specific movement on a specific issue: racial discrimination in the criminal justice system and law enforcement. Before recently stepping down at "The Daily Show," Colbert's mentor and former colleague Jon Stewart was relatively supportive and unapologetic about the movement. But Colbert is on a network now, with a bigger audience and higher stakes. What's more, Black Lives Matter is a broad tapestry of different organizations and individuals, only one of which is actually named the Black Lives Matter Network. By bearing the slogan, Colbert is potentially setting himself up to be needled the next time the slogan makes news in a bad way.
The movement has had mixed representation in the public eye since the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last year. Singer Janelle Monae spoke up for the movement in a performance on NBC's "Today" show last month, prompting a hard cut away from her speech. And lately, commentators on the right have begun to refer to the movement as a hate group -- akin to the Ku Klux Klan or white supremacist outfits -- due to certain instances in which protestors affiliated with the Black Lives Matter slogan have allegedly called for violence against police.
"Why has the Black Lives Matter movement not been classified yet as a hate group?" asked Elisabeth Hasselbeck, co-host of Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” and former panelist on ABC’s “The View.”
On Sunday, the folks at Fox slammed Colbert for throwing his lot in with a group that, according to them, wants “dead cops.”
“Obviously Stephen Colbert is a talented character, but there is also a strain of self-righteousness in his comedy,” said Tucker Carlson, “Fox & Friends” weekend host and editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller. "I mean, do you really want to get into this your first week on air, diving face first into the most divisive social movement in America?”
His co-host Clayton Morris echoed the concern: “So is he going to have an arm full of different wristbands for every skin color?”
That remains to be seen. As for whether Colbert will make good on his promise to bring up the movement in the coming days, Waldo said a security guard at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, where the show is taped, put in a good word for his boss.
"I have total faith he will mention Black Lives Matter in the coming days," he told IBT. "He has Bernie Sanders coming on the show Friday, so he has a great opportunity then."
"I look forward to their conversation!"