When Biden stopped by The Late Show Thursday night, instead of the interview being a simple joke-fest about running for president, it became deeply poignant, as Colbert offered Biden his condolences over Beau’s death from brain cancer in May. (Colbert himself knows something about tragedy: he lost his father and two of his brothers in a plane crash 44 years ago today.)
Political interviews on late-night television often risk becoming silly, but Colbert did something somewhat incredible: He just let Biden speak, and he listened.
Calling Beau “better than me in almost every way,” Biden, who was often on the verge of tears, described how selfless his son was, sitting in a hospital at age 4 trying to comfort his younger brother after the car accident that killed Biden’s first wife and his daughter. The vice president also discussed some of his son’s last words before he died, and he said he often marveled at how quickly some people could pick themselves back up after such a loss.
“[Beau] said, ‘Dad, sit down, I want to talk to you,'” Biden recounted. “And he said, ‘Dad, I know how much you love me. You’ve got to promise me something. Promise me you’re going to be alright. He said no matter what happens, dad, I’m going to be all right. Promise me.’ This is the kid who—I don’t know what it was about him. He had this enormous sense of empathy.”
The second half of the interview was closer to what late-night viewers were used to seeing, yet it was still often filled with the same sense of poignancy as the first. Although Biden joked that Colbert, who once fake-ran for president, should be his running mate, he got surprisingly candid about whether he was going to run. He joked about it, of course, but his indecisiveness felt sincere, not like a ploy.
“I don’t think any man or woman should run for president unless, number one, they know exactly why they would want to be president and two, they can look at folks out there and say I promise you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy, and my passion,” Biden said. “And, and, I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there. I’m being completely honest. Nobody has a right in my view to seek that office unless they are willing to give it 110 percent of who they are.”
Screengrab via The Late Show with Stephen Colbert/YouTube