The live audience obviously like Stewart’s material, and gives at most tepid reaction to Colbert’s repeated attempts to rebut Stewart and to throw off Stewart’s comic timing. And above all, Colbert spends the entire segment desperately disassociating himself from Stewart. At one point he cracks that Stewart must be working for Republican Senator Ron Johnson. The message is simple: It doesn’t matter if the stuff you are saying is funny. It doesn’t even matter if the stuff you are saying is true. What matters is you are putting me and my show on the wrong side and that’s a problem.
That’s because Colbert is terrified of his Very Online fanbase. In the wider America, the vast majority either believe in the lab-leak theory or are agnostic on the subject. But for the Very Online Left, the lab-leak theory isn’t about true or false. It’s about ingroup vs. outgroup, and anyone who volunteers that the lab-leak theory might be true is part of the outgroup.
And for the Very Online Left, if you’re part of the outgroup, you are fair game for any kind of harassment and condemnation, because the they define themselves by their expressions of hatred and contempt for outgroup figures (cops, gunowners, Israel, children in MAGA hats.)