The Stephen Colbert vaccine mandate

(Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via AP)

Late-night show host Stephen Colbert is really excited this week. After more than a year, he will finally be welcoming live audiences back into the studio, something he’s apparently been missing quite a bit. But before you go line up for tickets at his studio in New York City, he wants to be very clear about the rules under the “new normal.” There won’t be any social distancing involved when the audiences return. They will pack the studio just like they used to. You also won’t have to wear a face mask in the audience, though you are welcome to do so if you wish. But there will be one pandemic-related requirement. Nobody gets in without providing proof of vaccination against COVID. (Best Life)

“I can’t wait to say things that are happy and then hear people cheer,” Colbert continued. “Or boo. Or belch. I do not give a f*** at this point. Let her rip!”

Colbert made a point to note that the return to the theater “is not going to be some socially distanced smattering of a few people.” Instead, the full 400-plus seats of the Ed Sullivan Theater will be packed. But, in order to keep everyone safe, audience members are required to prove that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Of course vaccines have long been required at the Ed Sullivan Theater, ever since the deadly 1964 outbreak of Beatlemania,” Colbert joked in reference to the band’s famous performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Colbert continued his impromptu comedy routine about requiring proof of vaccination. “It’s like, no glove, no love. No poke, no joke. No needle, no live interview with Don Cheadle.” Hilarious. (/sarc)

No details were offered as to what forms of immunity passports would be accepted, but given the fact that the Ed Sullivan Theater is in the city’s theater district, they will likely have the state’s Excelsior Pass available to them. I’m sure most of Mr. Colbert’s young, hip audience have cellphones full of apps anyway, so that won’t be much of a problem for them. Or they could have people checking paper CDC vaccination cards at the door.

But even with those two options, Colbert’s stage team is looking at potential complications. If they do go with the Excelsior Pass, people don’t actually have to be vaccinated to receive the green checkmark from the app. You can just upload a photo of a negative test result and get your name on the “special people” list for a few days. Also, people with a note from their doctor saying they’ve already survived the virus can make it onto the list as well. And as we’ve noted here repeatedly, you can order a fake CDC card online for as little as $25. So the enforcement of this extralegal set of rules is going to be a problem.

But there are more questions awaiting down the line. Colbert films his show all through the fall and into the winter, right? We already learned that some people may need to get booster vaccinations by as soon as September while others won’t need them until next year. How will the Excelsior Pass and the Guardians of the Late-Night Galaxy manage those details? If you have a CDC card in your wallet right now and you would like to head down to the Ed Sullivan Theater to watch Colbert, how long will it be before that card “expires?” Will the Excelsior Pass system give you the boot after one year if you don’t upload a new card showing you’ve gotten a booster shot?

These immunity passports were always going to be trouble. On top of creating a two-tier society of the privileged and the shunned, we’re creating an entire new layer of bureaucracy that has to be managed. We’re turning an army of waiters, bartenders, and the people who hand out free tickets at the Ed Sullivan Theater into de facto enforcement agents who have to supervise the exposure of people’s private medical data as the price they must pay to return to “normal” society.

Oh, and there’s one last factor to consider here. The highest rates of people in New York City who are unvaccinated are still found in areas predominantly populated by communities of color. All of those people will be locked out of a chance to watch Colbert film his show. So doesn’t that make him a racist under today’s social rules of the road? Just saying…