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Stephen Colbert Reveals Why He Dropped His ‘Report’ Character for ‘The Late Show’

TCA 2015: New CBS host was tired of being ”actively ignorant“ about his guests

Stephen Colbert explained to a room full of TV critics exactly why he chose to drop his “Colbert Report” persona for the more sincere CBS “Late Show” slot.

“My character was actively ignorant about [guests],” Colbert said of his ultra-conservative alter-ego, which won him a couple of Emmys on Comedy Central. “One of the reasons I most wanted to drop the character is that I felt I had done everything I could do with him — or everything I could with that show — other than have my honest interest in the guest, which is almost constant.”

“And so, now I feel actually more freed up,” he continued during his Monday afternoon panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, which was also filled with plenty of laughs. “That was in some way the most energetic, the most exciting part of the show for me. And now I don’t have to hold back.”

Colbert also explained that he had to filter all his jokes and retorts through what he called an “occipital CPU” — like a high-tech brain processor — and “live render” what his Comedy Central character would think in real time. He made it clear for TV critics in the Beverly Hilton ballroom exactly how exhausting that can be.

“Now I can just talk,” Colbert said, with obvious relief. The old requirement was a draining “act of discipline as the years went on,” he admitted.

Plus, Colbert the character was “a tool” — his own words — even though the Second City alum said sometimes he’d actually agree with his character, but there was no way to separate himself from the role.

Colbert said that filming promos and online videos for the new show has been so much easier because he did not have to play a role. “Not having to run everything I said through my character’s bible in my head has been amazing,” he said.

Finally, Colbert admitted that he is as interested as the rest of us to see what Stephen Colbert the (real) man looks like on late-night TV.

He hopes the show will be really funny, but it’ll surely be easier, he opined — you know, aside from that extra couple hundred hours he now has to fill per year.

“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” premieres Sept. 8 at 11:35 p.m. ET on CBS.