New Late Show host Colbert connects via the Web

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When Donald Trump arrived on an escalator and announced last Tuesday that he would seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, he set off a gold rush among late-night comedians who could not wait to satirise his bombastic, digressive declaration speech.

On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart gave thanks to the heavens, while on Late Night, Seth Meyers presented a point-by-point takedown of Mr Trump's immoderate campaign promises.

And, in an online video, Stephen Colbert performed his own version of the speech, offering his mock support. Describing Mr Trump as someone who looks like "they raked his body out of the surf down in Cape May", Colbert said, in an unplaceable, Trump-like accent: "That sends a message of confidence to voters that if you vote for him, he's not physically dead."

But there is a crucial difference between Colbert and his comedic peers: He is not appearing on television until Sept 8, when he will take over as host of Late Show, succeeding David Letterman, who stepped down last month.

In the meantime, Colbert, who ended his series The Colbert Report in December, has been offering a steady flow of content as if he were already on the air.

With the help of the Internet, he and his Late Show collaborators are hoping to preserve the host's connection to his fans, develop the voice of their new programme and keep pace with their late-night competitors.

As Colbert explained in an e-mail: "We like our audience and want to give them gifts to let them know we miss them."

Following a hiatus of almost six months, he re-emerged earlier this month by introducing several new online offerings created to support his Late Show debut, including an official website; Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts; and an iOS application called Colbr.

In addition to a weekly podcast, The Late Show has posted new videos every few days, offering updates that are both factual (the hiring of its bandleader, Jon Batiste) and farcical (Colbert shaving off the beard he grew during his downtime).

These online experiments give Colbert some breathing room to try out his new network persona - a cultured quipster not unlike his actual self - without having to do so in front of the wider and more critical audience he will face in September.

"If people watched the old show, they know Stephen's sense of humour and that's who he is," Opus Moreschi, a Late Show head writer, said.

"The character he's playing now is a talk-show host whose job it is to entertain you. It's freeing. We don't have to think about why our character would want to go do something - he can just do it."

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