SSomehow, it’s been almost a year since the advent of the post-Trump conundrum of late-night television – with the end of an administration that was both a boon to the public. audiences and a creative stalemate, how would liberal political comedy advance? Late night television, from the emotional monologues of Stephen Colbert to the furious segments of Seth Meyers’ Closer Look to the cold openings of Saturday Night Live, has helped millions of viewers deal with an impossible deluge of deranged and infuriating headlines. in the years following the 2016 elections.
He also tested the definition of insanity, locking writers and hosts in a rut of outdated jokes about an administration beyond parody. Four years of bad impressions and overly similar jokes exposing the limits of satire; one night in 2018, five late-night hosts said the same. Where would one of the most cohesive and least diverse genres in variety television be found at the end of the scandalous presidency?
Of course, the former president’s relevance to topical comedy didn’t end with his defeat in the 2020 election. There was his big lie of voter fraud and the Capitol uprising on January 6, whose fallout continues to spice up late-night comedy as a Republican party now attached to the principles of Trumpism – denial, alarmism, minority rule – refuses to hold anyone back. officially responsible. Courts filled with conservative judges during his administration continue to make (or refrain from making) decisions critical to the lives of millions of Americans. The gamebook that the Trump campaign has used at random to deny minority voters the right to vote and discredit elections has been codified into law in several states.
So on some level, the political comedy aimed at relevance couldn’t completely avoid the former president. However, the way in which programs as disparate in pace, style and tone as The Tonight Show and Last Week with John Oliver handled the turmoil and transition last year has varied. There have been serious, random attempts to move forward and refocus, but like the current administration, the late-night comedy remains haunted by the last one.
Shows such as Stephen Colbert’s Late Show have made a habit of blatantly avoiding the former president’s name while repeatedly hooking up the now-designed Republican Party. Others, namely Late Night with Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel Live !, doubled down – continuing to poke fun at Trump and his supporters, keeping abreast of the activities of his former confidants (Rudy Giuliani, Kellyanne Conway) and stoking up indignation at his attempts. stay relevant without social media and the highest office in the country. (Kimmel even controversially greeted a frequent target, MyPillow CEO and electoral conspirator Mike Lindell, for an interview in April.)
Still others, from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to weekly shows with Time and a mandate to delve into less responsive topics, have barely mentioned Trump as they tackle more thorny and complicated topics – vaccine hesitancy, bitcoin, anti-abortion laws, extreme weather conditions, even, on the Daily Show, an explanation of how Nicki Minaj’s disinformation-filled viral tweet about her cousin’s friend in Trinidad took its toll on people. Covid defense efforts in this country.
Saturday Night Live, too, no longer appeals to Alec Baldwin for his very jaded and exaggerated impressions of Trump, but continued his coldly open political parodies in the Biden era with middling interest. The 47th season premiere on October 2, in which new actor James Austin Johnson, known for his online impressions of Trump, posed as Biden, drew 3.5 million viewers, down 35% compared to last year ; recent episodes have seen record ratings.
Of the nightly shows, the most popular, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, illustrates the median strategy – the host, who has dominated audiences for five consecutive years with an average of 2.95 million viewers, has taken to the habit not to pronounce the name of the former president. a bit (fans can submit punny nicknames on Twitter). But the Late Show’s main mission is still to talk about what everyone’s talking about, which is often, in 2021, things not really treatable by the mechanics of comedy – mass shootings, climate disasters, callous politicians’ insensitivity. GOP restricting abortions. or voting rights. Books about the chaos of the old administration, the residual fallout from the January 6 uprising, and the tribulations of Rudy Giuliani are still on the air, but the monologue mostly moved away from the gut reactions about the last House circus. Blanche to other circuses, such as the billionaire space race or the partisan Arizona election review.
Meanwhile, the more expressly liberal weekly shows – Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Last Week with John Oliver – continued to investigate isolated topics less apt for a hard-hitting rage-click title. From argument to research to heartbroken and fiery presentation, these shows barely work like a comedy – their segments are more like passionate explanations from a knowledgeable, spirited friend free to call bullshit and analysis. puncture with a cathartic dose of obscenity.
The Trump years saw a plethora of experimental late-night shows hosted by non-heterosexual white male talent crumble – The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas and The Break with Michelle Wolf have all were created and have been canceled since January 2015. The past year has once again seen some potential for new entries and perspectives for the genre.
Showtime’s Ziwe, a full-length version of the combative and humorous Instagram live show hosted by a narcissistic and devious character from Nigerian-American comedian Ziwe Fumudoh, aimed at the unease in the zeitgeist. The show features a version of Fuck, Marry, Kill called Enslave, Appropriate, Silence; a jazz number called Lisa Called the Cops on Black People; and the question “what bothers you the most: slow walkers or racism?” for Fran Lebowitz. The 29-year-old host is sharp and restrained, the show satirizing a mid-2000s Colbert report lacquered in hot pink to millennials poisoned by irony.
HBO’s Break with Sam Jay, which also premiered this spring, eschewed the standard desk and chair setup for something looser, more reminiscent of late-night conversations in rooms where the Whites are the minority. Former SNL writer, a black and lesbian comedian raised around Boston projects, arranges a bribe with friends at her New York apartment, drinks flow, topics ranging from pro-black conservatives to self-righteous Twitter critics.
“The conversations have gotten a little repetitive, and I also don’t know, sometimes, who they’re even talking to,” Jay told The Guardian earlier this year of the late-night staples. “I hate to say it that way, but that’s kind of how I feel sometimes, like who is it for, exactly?” Because it’s not for any of my friends.
These shows, unrelated to the news cycle and the burden of pleasing middle-aged white audiences, are bolder, more dynamic, more abrasive (Ziwe) or languid (Jay). The recent return of Jon Stewart, arguably the king of late-night satire, to news television has also demonstrated a desire to move from a responsive, personality-driven style. The Trouble with Apple TV’s Jon Stewart, which has aired two episodes so far, finds the former Daily Show host in his usual mode of outrage, but this time with half of each episode (the first on War , the second on freedom) devoted to a panel of guests, such as veterans and their spouses, directly affected by the problem.
Stewart’s program, full of righteousness and empathy but not particularly funny, is perhaps the best summary of where late-night television, as a whole, seems to be heading. The genre remains predominantly white and masculine, with a monologue and desk, still pulling varying degrees of punchlines and outrage from the former president. There’s not too much funny on current events, on the state of American democracy, on politics. But there is a function in trying to translate the issues of the day to a wider audience, to help fight horror addiction, to break events down into plain language without being tied to outdated notions of objectivity and seriously. Franchise isn’t the same as comedy, but they look more and more similar on late night TV.