Has Late Night Comedy Stop Being About Comedy?

I had a conversation a couple of weeks back with a friend in the entertainment business about the current state of late-night comedy. Note this was before the Vegas Shooting or when Jimmy Kimmel made his initial push for Universal Healthcare. We both grew up during the age of Jay Leno and David Letterman. For the most part, we discussed why Leno always beat Letterman in the ratings and part of the reason we discussed was the fact that Leno appealed more to the classical late-night audience. If you remember late night during those days the structure of a show was pretty simple.

1. Opening Monologue

2. Comedy Skit or Bit

3. Interview Two Celebrities Promoting a Project

4. Musical Guest

5. Sign Off

Pretty straightforward stuff. There was also a slight political aspect to the feud as well. Letterman, especially during the George W. Bush days, would goof on him a lot and rightly so. Leno had a different approach in which he famously said: “I put the joke first and the politics second.” When Leno did go political, he didn’t spare Democrats or Republicans which gave Leno the appearance of being fair with his jabs giving him a more broader audience. Even though I preferred Leno over Letterman, that doesn’t mean Letterman wasn’t entertaining as well, I actually enjoyed their rivalry and it reminds me of the era that was in late night comedy.

Fast-Forward about 10-15 years later and the landscape of Late Night has changed and I can’t say for the better. Leno and Letterman are gone and they have been replaced with a different kind of late-night comedian. A kind of comedian who puts politics first and jokes second. When Jon Stewart left the Daily Show in 2015, a void was placed in the area of news and political satire comedy. Many of his former correspondents left to start their own shows like Trevor Noah who took over for Stewart, Stephen Colbert, who took over for David Letterman, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver to name a few. Suddenly, the tone of late-night comedy took a noticeable shift away from letting us all laugh together, to being a platform for political and social commentary.

Over the last few weeks Jimmy Kimmel, has made national news, not for anything to do with the content of his show, because he has become the mouthpiece for left-wing commentary in America, calling for universal health care and gun control and he isn’t the only one. Stephen Colbert, who has been venomously anti-Trump for years, makes headlines for going after the president on many occasions. Same goes for Seth Myers, Conan O’Brien, James Cordon…suddenly you realize, I’m not watching late night comedy anymore, I’m watching it late night political opinion. The only comedian who has tried to avoid politics is Jimmy Fallon and even he has been pressed to get into the political game due to the backlash of his Trump interview last year and the fact he hasn’t attacked Trump like many other hosts.

If you are fans of Rachel Maddow, Bill Maher, and Sean Hannity that’s great because you know what you are getting from them. The problem here lies in two ways, one, late night’s content is now outright hostile to half the country. If you were a fan of Kimmel back to his Man Show days or his skits with Matt Damon, you probably don’t appreciate him, saying “Maybe it is too soon for you because deep down inside you know — in your heart you know you bear some responsibility for the fact that almost anyone can get any weapon they want, and now you want to cover yourself until the storm of outrage passes and you can go back to your dirty business as usual.” You likely aren’t going to be tuning in for any future shows after listening to that. The second problem which is the biggest, you watch late night to be entertained not lectured to. Many people don’t watch late night for political grandstanding because that’s not what the platform was for, the platform is for comedy and many hosts have forgotten that. Take Seth Meyers for example, who took time to make a passionate plea to Hillary Clinton not to attack Bernie Sanders for the sake of Democrat Party Unity…

Is this still a comedy show?

At the end of the day, this isn’t about whether these guys have the right to say and do the things that they do. The argument is has late night comedy become too political to still be considered comedy? If you are a long time viewer of late night TV, can you still watch the current crop of shows and separate art from politics or has the current trend made it impossible to do so?

Editors’ note: So when I wrote this story, I had no idea that Hillary Clinton was scheduled to be on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon later that day. In that appearance you had writers of the show and Miley Cyrus give #HillaryThankYouNotes to Hillary Clinton herself as she made a continued push for gun control. I gave Fallon credit for being possibly the only person in the late night who didn’t go full politics, not only did that change last night but I seriously have to wonder if the classical era of late night is truly gone. 

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11 thoughts on “Has Late Night Comedy Stop Being About Comedy?

  1. While I see what you are saying.. let’s also note this.. could you imagine them NOT saying something.. it comes to a point where enough is enough and if they didn’t acknowledge it..what kind of human does that make them.. ‘Thoughts & prayers” is BS and doesn’t absolve the person of taking a stand of where we are a country right now. Every single one of them also notes where to go and how to help on things like the hurricanes when the Pres doesn’t step up to do so…I didn’t like Leno a ton and after his shady shit he pulled on Conan – I refused to watch his show ever again. I’m guessing those who don’t like will bitch on FB ha! and usually the rest of the show has some comedy for those who don’t change the channel.

    1. A couple of things, first if we were talking solely about the Vegas shooting you would have a point but this goes far back to the situation this week. Jimmy Kimmel now sees himself as the face of American Healthcare. Do you watch Kimmel to get a rundown on your healthcare benefits? No. Ever since the Daily Show crew spread out to different networks, they have turned late night comedy into left-wing talk outlets. If you want to be that then fine but taking a stand against half of your viewers isn’t a smart business decision. Case in point when Leno left, his ratings were STILL better than every late night host today by a margin.

      Secondly, as far as Leno goes, you should be blaming NBC, they were the ones promised Conan the Tonight show, however, Leno was still the highest rated guy in late night and they didn’t want to let him go because Conan wasn’t matched his ratings. That was on the network, not Leno.

      Lastly, on mostly a side note, The San Juan Major is now running for Governor…Just a reminder that most of what you hear is politics and not reality.

      1. Oh sorry.. you’re so wrong on Leno to start with. He wanted to come back to work – didn’t like retirement. As someone who worked with his agents at the time, it was entirely him who brought it up to NBC when he didn’t like being retired and saw Conan wasn’t doing as well as he did. That’s first. And Jimmy Kimmel DOES NOT see himself as the face of health care – what he does see himself as is a father who’s child was born with a heart defect who has pointed out to the people who watch his show that if he wasn’t who he was, if the healthcare bill that they have had almost 8 years to think about making better – instead of worse – his child would have a pre-existing condition and not be qualified for health care and die. He is speaking as a man, a father and a decent human being who cares for the welfare of others. And if he can enlghten just ONE other person about what is happening with the healthcare bill – then power to him and anyone else who can do the same. And lastly. to your side-note to your ‘the mayor of San Juan just wants to run for governor’ those are rumours started by those wonderful right-wing news nut sites because she put down their beloved for his disgusting comments and lack of assistance needed for PR. so check your sites where you’re reading those rumours from and remember most of what you hear when you listen to them.

      2. 1. Actually that’s incorrect; Leno was scheduled to leave the Tonight Show in May of 2009. In December of 2008, NBC announced that Jay Leno was going to host an hour special on NBC during primetime after giving the reigns to Conan. That is what started the conflict at the network. Leno technically never left NBC they moved his time after Conan took over.
        2. Now regarding Kimmel, I’m aware he had the issue with his newborn son earlier in the year and I’m not saying he shouldn’t speak out; the problem is that Kimmel isn’t knowledgeable about the system that he is fighting for. Because with Universal Healthcare which operates under the Complete Lives System, a newborn child with a pre-existing condition would be viewed as a low priority within that system because he hasn’t lived enough to have the system (the state) invested in him yet. The same goes for the elderly. This was written by Ezekiel Emanuel the guy who architect the current healthcare system. And this is the problem with having late night comedians endorse government plans, the comedian is only going to know what the representatives in Washington tell him, he’s not going to understand the system he is fighting for is a more cruel system to the people he is trying to help and I don’t expect him to understand because he is a comedian not a politician.
        3. As for the claim of PR’s mayor running for the Governorship, The Hill ran the story which was covered on CNN. It’s also worth noting that I’ve heard the Mayor’s complaints but it’s important to note that she is a Mayor of one city and that’s her account. The Governor as well as the other mayors of Puerto Rico has denounced her claim. Guaynabo, Puerto Rico mayor, Angel Perez, said in an interview that his experience with the federal government has been different from Cruz’s, in part because unlike Cruz, he has been participating in meetings with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies. Now I can’t claim to know who’s telling the truth between Perez and Cruz, but given it’s he said/she said I wouldn’t take one person’s word as gospel.

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