Stephen Colbert returns to late night after ruptured appendix caused ‘heap of trouble’

Comedian Stephen Colbert is one of the most popular entertainers on late-night television. But he’s still human.

On Monday, the host of CBS’ “Late Night with Stephen Colbert” returned to his desk after spending about three weeks recovering from a burst appendix, a potentially life-threatening event that may have been even rougher when he attempted to power through it.

Colbert used his monologue to explain why he ghosted: He was taping back-to-back episodes around Nov. 20 when he experienced almost unbearable pain, with the cause unknown to him.

“I was in a heap of trouble,” he said.

Band leader Louis Cato said, “I knew something was wrong when, for the first time in almost nine years, you had to rehearse the monologue sitting at the desk with a barf bucket next to you.”

Colbert was trying to make up for time lost to a one-week bout with Covid and the five-month writers’ strike, so, he said, he endured unspeakable pain during a two-episode “Late Show” workday that was his last until Monday.

“The pain was manageable,” Colbert said. “It only hurt when I moved. And when I didn’t.”

Stephen Colbert appears on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in New York City, on Dec . 11, 2023.Scott Kowalchyk / CBS

Because comedian David Letterman was a guest from the previous day’s taping, Colbert said, “I thought I might have caught something from Dave’s beard.”

While he said having actor Bradley Cooper as another guest may have helped — “there’s no pain when you’re lost in those baby blues” — having José Andrés as a guest for a cooking segment certainly didn’t. The Washington, D.C.-based celebrity chef grabbed the host for an impromptu dance. “I was dying,” Colbert said.

“At that point,” he explained, “my insides had become what the Spanish call paella.”

Andrés responded Tuesday on X, saying he’s happy Colbert is healthy and hosting again: “I promise to bring you a REAL paella next time I visit and…no more surprise dancing!!”

After the taping, Colbert said his driver urged them to head to a hospital, with his wife calling and endorsing the idea.

The host directed his driver to take him home so he could rest and recover with the assumption that whatever ailed him would go away. But his wife doubled down on a hospital visit, and that’s where Colbert found out his appendix had ruptured, he said.

Such an event is likely the result of viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection, or blockage in the appendix, an intestinal tube. “The appendix can burst or develop holes or tears in its walls, which allow stool, mucus, and infection to leak through and get inside the belly,” according to a brief from Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Surgery is often necessary to stop or prevent infection from spreading and becoming deadly.

Colbert joked that medical staff used a power washer and shop vacuum to treat the appendicitis. “When they opened me up it was like they shot ‘John Wick 5’ down there,” he said, referring to the violent Keanu Reeves franchise.

Recovery, Colbert said, involved potent pain medication and perhaps some hallucination, though he noted that his wife doubted drugs caused his visions, “He’s always like that,” he quoted her as saying.

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