Stephen Colbert Says It Took 'Humility' to Take Over 'Late Show': 'I Wasn't Sure I Could Keep Up the Energy'

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Stephen Colbert
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Stephen Colbert admits that replacing David Letterman on The Late Show didn't come naturally for him. 

The 53-year-old comedian took over the CBS late-night program in September 2015, and confesses to Oprah Winfrey during aSuper Soul Sundayinterview that he was "scared" to step into the highly coveted role. 

"If you're not nervous, you're not trying," he tells Winfrey during their chat in front of a live audience on Wednesday at the Apollo Theater in New York City. "In the first few months of the show, I was so exhausted by the effort we were putting into it that I wasn't sure that I could keep the energy level up."

Colbert further confides that he wasn't even sure how he wanted to proceed with The Late Show at first. "We were trying to find what the show was going to be," he explains. "Because it couldn't be what the other show [The Colbert Report] was, it couldn't be what Dave's show was."

Stephen Colbert Oprah Winfrey
JoJo Whilden/OWN

"The thing that actually took the calcium out of your bones was you have to do this with humility because you're trying to find something that you don't know yet in front of millions of people," he continues. "You have to do it publicly."

Colbert eventually found his stride and reveals that he had a little help from filmmaker Spike Jonze.

"He came by and did an interview six months before my show went on the air about what I wanted my show to be. After we'd been on the air for a while, he sent those notes back to me," he recalls. "[Spike] said, 'I want to remind you what you're intention was.' And one of the things I said was, 'I don't know how to do a late-night comedy show that talks about love. But I'd like it in some way to be about love. And there's so many different ways to express that, I suppose.' That's what I had said to him in the interview, and he sent back to me as a reminder."

Stephen Colbert Oprah Winfrey
JoJo Whilden/OWN

The host says he hopes that through his commentary on The Late Show, he is living up to that goal.

"I love my country. I love science. I love facts. I love people regardless of their race or their gender identity. The challenge now is to love the people who don't seem to have that value in their hearts -- or at least how it's politically expressed; I don't know what's in their heart. How it's politically expressed. Even the people I disagree the most with, if I sat down and had this conversation with them, we might leave the conversation hand-in-hand," Colbert, a devout Catholic, expresses. 

"But when we're making jokes about people's political action, it's very hard to see them as more than their ideas. You cannot love their ideas; you can only love their selves. So, that's the challenge. That's the heroine challenge that Christ sets forth, to love the people you disagree with the most -- because loving the people you agree with? Anybody could do that."

Winfrey's Super Soul Sunday episode, Oprah at the Apollo, will air Feb. 27 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on OWN and will be available on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations podcast. 

The Late Show With Stephen Colbert airs weeknights on CBS.

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