Colbert and Carell, ‘kindred spirits,’ team for NJPAC show

Stephen Colbert interviewed Steve Carell at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, Friday.


Stephen Colbert interviewed Steve Carell at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, Friday.

Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell should make a movie together. A warped buddy movie, maybe, or a political spoof where they’re running mates secretly having an affair with each other. But something.

That is one of the thoughts inspired by their joint appearance Friday night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, where Colbert interviewed Carell in a benefit for the Montclair Film Festival (Colbert, who lives in Montclair, is on the advisory board). They complement each other well, with each one capable of either playing the straight man or going for the big laugh, as the moment requires, and making the shifts from one mode to the other seem totally natural.

They are, in fact, old friends — “kindred spirits,” in Carell’s words — who worked together in the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago in the late ’80s and early ’90s and were castmates on television’s “The Dana Carvey Show” and “The Daily Show” before both becoming more famous with separate projects.

When Colbert got the “Carvey” job, in fact, it was Carell who told him the news — and Colbert was so excited he screamed (but not before going into his bathroom’s shower and closing the door, so as not to wake his infant daughter), he remembered on Friday.

Those wondering what kind of an interviewer Colbert will be when he takes over the “Late Show” from David Letterman at some point next year got something of an answer Friday night. And no one should be worried. Colbert, who reiterated that he will not use his right-wing blowhard persona from “The Colbert Report” on “Late Show,” gave the impression that he had been doing non-satirical celebrity interviews his whole life: he had some hilarious clips ready to be played, kept things moving, drew Carell out without stepping on his toes, and sincerely praised his guest without seeming unctuous.

Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell in Newark.

Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell in Newark.

Of course, this was not exactly a tough interview. Carell has a hot new movie to talk about (“Foxcatcher”), and he and Colbert, who sat next to each other on easy chairs, have the kind of joint comedic timing you only get from years of working together. They even closed the 80-minute show — after taking a few questions from the audience — by singing the National Anthem together, as they have done before. Colbert said he likes to close shows that way because it guarantees a standing ovation.

Colbert could have spent more time on “Foxcatcher”; there’s so much buzz about it I think people would have enjoyed hearing Carell talk more about it. But he chose to focus more on Carell’s early years. Carell talked about the first time he got positive feedback on his acting (in an elementary school play); working as a Hard Rock Cafe waiter in his struggling actor days; his excitement over landing the “Dana Carvey Show” job (both he and Colbert thought that much-hyped show was going to be their big break, though it ended up being short-lived); and his doomed efforts to perk up the even more short-lived sitcom “Over the Top,” starring Tim Curry.

He and Colbert both remembered a vicious online review where Peter Ko wrote: “Of course, not even Hitler managed to cheese off several races and the Allied powers all by himself. Much in the way that young Adolf had his Heinrich Himmler, Tim Curry has his Steve Carell.” Colbert said he liked the review so much he offered Ko a job (and Ko declined).

Colbert does events like this one annually, to benefit the Montclair Film Festival. Previous ones have featured Jon Stewart and Jimmy Fallon.

The next Montclair Film Festival takes place May 1-10. (It is expanding from seven to 10 days.) Today, the festival presents “Behind the Screen 2014,” featuring panel discussions on careers in filmmaking and media, at Montclair State University. It’s free, and though advance registration is closed, walk-ins may be allowed if space permits.

Which brings up the point: The festival is supported by a lot of movie industry insiders, and some were undoubtedly in attendance on Friday. C’mon now, make that Colbert-Carell comedy happen!

This is one of the clips that was shown on Friday; Colbert and Carell both said it led directly to them getting jobs at “The Daily Show.” It’s from “The Dana Carvey Show” (1996).

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