Stephen Colbert was a once a kid knocking around with friends on James Island. Now, he has a shot at becoming the new king of late-night TV comedy.

On Thursday, CBS announced that Colbert will replace David Letterman next year as host of "The Late Show."

Locals cheered the news.

"My wife is so thrilled about that. I think he will do a great job. He's a funny guy. I will definitely watch it," said Isle of Palms City Councilman Mike Loftus.

Letterman, who turns 67 on Saturday, announced on his show last week that he would retire sometime in 2015, although he hasn't set a date. CBS said that creative elements of Colbert's new show, including where it will be based, will be announced later.

"He's a Charleston son. We have to be excited. I think he will do very well," Marla Loftus said. I'm a little melancholy about the fact that the other show is going away."

Colbert's current show, "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central, won the Emmy for best variety series last year and has earned two Peabody Awards. He has hosted the show at 11:30 p.m. since 2005 in character as a fictional conservative talk-show host. The character will retire with "The Colbert Report," The Associated Press reported.

Joanne Paolini Fronabarger of Charleston said that she is a fan of Colbert's satirical, intellectual, socially relevant humor.

"The first time I saw him, I about fell about of my chair. I love political humor," she said. "He is so good. He just nails it. I think he will do very well."

She recalled when Colbert visited Cypress restaurant where she worked as a fine dining server. "He's just as nice as can be," Fronabarger said.

Colbert will battle Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel for late-night television supremacy. Fallon took over for Jay Leno on NBC's "Tonight" show in February, and has dominated the ratings since his arrival, with Letterman and Kimmel running neck-and-neck for second.

Local roots

Colbert, 49, grew up the youngest of 11 brothers and sisters.

He was just 10 years old when two of his brothers and his father, Dr. James W. Colbert Jr., were killed, along with 69 others, in a plane crash in Charlotte.

"Nothing made any sense after my father and my brothers died. I kind of just shut off," he told The Post and Courier in a 2006 interview.

Not long after the tragedy, his mother moved the family downtown to East Bay Street. He missed his father, brothers and his boyhood friends and neighbors.

"I was not from downtown, I did not know the kids there. I love Charleston, I love the Lowcountry, but it's very insular. Or pen-insular. I just wasn't accepted by the kids," he said.

The day of his father's and brothers' funeral, he picked up a science-fiction book and read one a day for the next eight years.

"That's what I did. I escaped my teen years and all that grief in books," he said.

High school was an unhappy time for Colbert. But rather than mope around all day, he dealt with his pain by making people laugh.

"That's when people said, 'Oh, Colbert's funny.' Then a year later, I was voted wittiest at my high school. And that's when I thought maybe I should be a comedian," Colbert said.

Finding his destiny

After graduating from Porter-Gaud, Colbert attended Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia for two years and then transferred to Northwestern in Chicago for theater school, where he graduated in 1986.

He performed with The Second City, the prestigious improvisational comedic theater group in Chicago. Dan Aykroyd, Chris Farley, Bill Murray and Steve Carell are also alumni of the troupe.

Following that were several short-lived TV shows that he co-wrote and starred in, including "Exit 57" and "Strangers With Candy." He tried writing for VH1, MTV, "Saturday Night Live" and "The Dana Carvey Show." He served a stint as a correspondent for "Good Morning America."

Then an agent asked him to audition for "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. He became a star with his portrayal of "a well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-class idiot." For more than six years, Colbert helped "The Daily Show" win numerous Emmy and Peabody awards. In 2005, his writing ability and quick wit finally earned him the chance at his own show, "The Colbert Report."

Colbert's move to "The Late Show" will open up a hole on Comedy Central's schedule. The network said in a statement Thursday that "we look forward to the next eight months of the ground-breaking 'Colbert Report' and wish Stephen the very best."

He could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Saying goodbye

Colbert's mother died here last summer at 92. After a week-long absence, Colbert opened "The Colbert Report" with his memories of her.

Choking back tears, he said Lorna Elizabeth Tuck Colbert shaped him and what is best about the show. He recalled her encouraging singing and dancing at home, except at the dinner table. She trained to be an actress, he said.

"We were the light of her life and she let us know it until the end," he said.

"When I was leaving her last week, I leaned over and I said, 'Mom, I'm going back to New York to do the show.' And she said, 'I can't wait to see it. I wouldn't miss it for the world.' "

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.