After the final night of 2016’s political conventions, around 1am ET, a bleary-eyed Stephen Colbert must muster up the strength for one last taping. The Late Show’s Friday episode will be a clip-show composed of its best convention bits, but this endeavor needs a live lead-in…which means Colbert on camera one final time.
“Yes, I’m so tired I can time travel,” Colbert says, explaining the behind-the-scenes logistics to his audience. “But you know what will sharpen me up?” Suddenly he reaches beneath his desk, revealing a 12oz bottle wrapped in a familiar blue label. “The cool refreshing taste of Bud Light. Yes, Bud Light, the official beer of midweek drinking.”
The line gets a laugh, but this is no spoof. For both the DNC and the RNC, The Late Show host ended week-long coverage by nursing one of America’s most popular light beers on screen. And from “this week has been so relentless I needed a safe word—mine was Bud Light” to “please drink responsibly, whether or not we do,” every joke at Bud Light’s expense doubled as the latest example in a long lineage of native alcohol advertising on TV.
The practice tends to happen only after dark—as Neil Patrick Harris’ infamous Heineken ad spoofed, there were rules about drinking on camera and the legacy continues—and usually only the biggest of big box brewers and distillers tend to partake. Given his resume of late-night timeslots, Colbert himself has a strong history here. On The Colbert Report, he threw back everything from Bud Light Lime to a certain Tennessee Whiskey with a familiar black label. But he’s far from the only one.
Colbert’s former colleague John Oliver shotgunned a Bud Light Lime on HBO to celebrate the fall of ex-FIFA president Sepp Blatter in a set that basically mirrored a beer beach commercial. (“Bud Light Lime tastes like your tongue is angry with you,” is a slogan worthy of Blatter.) And on that duo’s old channel, new Daily Show host Trevor Noah sat down for a bevy of label-centric Kentucky bourbons with senator Rand Paul this year. Essentially in live, late-night settings, virtually anything can happen and it’s not always an idea direct from the big brand itself. Just ask Peyton Manning about declaring his undying love for a couple of cold Budweisers post-Super Bowl.
As for The Late Show’s recent Bud Light love, word has yet to come out either way about how sponsored the segments were. The punchlines point in one direction, obviously. (“I can’t wait for this week to be over so I can have a drink,” Colbert said post-RNC. “So I won’t. (Grabbing a Bud Light) Bud Light, the beer we could get.”) But the most illuminating clue came from the DNC show’s first toss to commercial. Colbert sat down with his prop weasel, ready to deliver a line and hit the “we’ll be right back”—but the Bud Light on his desk had the label facing away from the audience. He quickly reached out to twist things around, only to dump half the beer all over.
It may not have been a perfect brand moment, but that’s not the goal of these segments anyway. In fact, such imperfection is exactly why such moments get people talking about the Bud Lights of the world more often than they’d ever otherwise.