John Mulaney and Stephen Colbert have late night’s most therapeutic conversation

John Mulaney (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for IFC)
John Mulaney (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for IFC) /

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert and comedian John Mulaney had an honest conversation on anxiety and insecurity.

Fans of both John Mulaney and Stephen Colbert know that the two are among the most thoughtful and insightful individuals in their respective fields. Typically this comes in the form of well-crafted jokes and monologues. But on Wednesday night, audiences were treated to a much more earnest discussion.

Colbert seemed to be in a different mood from the start of Wednesday’s Late Show. His monologue on the impeachment trial featured candid praise for Representative Adam Schiff for his courage and conviction.

It was uncommon but not unheard of for Colbert. Fans know that many of his guest interviews often touch on serious and heavy topics not frequently covered in late night. Everything from mental health to religion has been brought up while Colbert is behind the Late Show desk.

Comedy fans also know that John Mulaney covers some of the same topics in his act. Mulaney has been a Late Show guest before but his conversations with Stephen Colbert never turned into the back-and-forth on existentialism, insecurity, and anxiety like it did on Wednesday night.

There was a clear shift in the conversation after John Mulaney offered his hilarious interpretation of the afterlife. The interview already featured some funny anecdotes about how Mulaney interacted with his parents and wife. But the comedian clearly didn’t expect Colbert to ask about the correlation between his anxiety and desired to be liked. And Colbert likely didn’t expect Mulaney to offer such an insightful answer that wasn’t looking for a laugh.

The audience recognized the moment and did not assume and bits were playing out or offer any nervous laughter. Instead, everyone in the room realized they were seeing something unexpected in a late night interview between two comedians, thus adding to the moment’s significance.

Plenty of late night interviews attempt to “humanize” larger than life stars and showcase them in a different light the audience isn’t used to seeing. But the conversation between Mulaney and Colbert went beyond that as the two revealed many of the same fears about acceptance that millions of other people deal with daily. The difference is that Colbert and Mulaney are in the public eye but it sounds like Colbert is at peace with that.

The conversation was another example of how The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is delivering things not seen elsewhere in late night. Yes, The Daily Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live! can offer similar moments but Colbert seems to offer much more of his personal views, beliefs, and sense of self while serving as an interviewer.

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It’s hard not to have a deeper appreciation for Stephen Colbert and John Mulaney after that clip. It would have been easy for Colbert to avoid asking such a personal question or for Mulaney to deflect it with a joke. Instead, both comedians faced their own insecurities and provided the audience with a conversation that was insightful. It’s easy to like that.