Johnny Carson kept his personal politics close to the vest. For the most part, so did Jay Leno and David Letterman.
That’s not the case with the current roster of late-night comics.
During Election Week, they might as well have slapped “Vote for Biden” stickers on their foreheads. Their behavior may have helped liberal viewers get a sounder sleep, but it didn’t result in a lot of laughs.
“Looks like we’re finally sending the monster back to Mar-a-Lago,” ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel said Wednesday, before scolding those who voted for Donald Trump. Sidekick Guillermo Rodriguez led an intoxicated cheer for Joe Biden, urging his boss to calm down with some tequila shots.
On the same evening, Seth Meyers allowed his regular commentary, “A Closer Look,” to take over half of his NBC show so he could remind his audience for the thousandth time that the current president is his worst nightmare.
“If Trump won, will you please get in a time machine and come back and kill me?” he said during the pretaped episode, adding that he was clenching so hard on election night that he suddenly had six-pack abs.
John Oliver’s Emmy-winning HBO series “Last Week Tonight” expanded to 45 minutes last Sunday so the host had extra time to eviscerate both the president and William Barr, comparing the attorney general to a constipated Charmin bear.
No one in late night has campaigned harder for the Democrats than Stephen Colbert.
He kicked off his live special Tuesday on Showtime with an animated short that imagined Biden as Batman trying to stop Trump’s Joker from disrupting the count by pressing the nuclear button. The night before on his CBS show, he welcomed Cher, who sported a “Vote Biden” T-shirt and plugged her new song, “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe.”
It’s worth noting that both Oliver and Colbert graduated from “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” a show that has surpassed Carson’s “Tonight Show” as late night’s biggest influence.
Stewart’s replacement on Comedy Central, Trevor Noah, dedicated several recent episodes to a countdown of “Trump’s 100 Most Tremendous Scandals!” Shortly before polls closed in Florida, he tweeted video of the state being blown up with the caption: “Do we have this technology yet?”
Poking fun of Biden has largely been off limits.
“Saturday Night Live” seemed ready to give it a go when it hired Jim Carrey to play the former vice president, but the portrayal has been something of a disaster with the master impressionist choosing to turn the character into a benevolent uncle whose naughtiest habit is asking kids to pull his finger.
Biden himself didn’t make any late-night appearances, but his surrogates were in full force. Jimmy Fallon interviewed Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday while James Corden crushed on Pete Buttigieg. Both hosts usually avoid sharp political commentary, but they seemed more than willing to jump on the bandwagon.
Al Franken appeared on “Conan” Wednesday, but for the most part, host Conan O’Brien has avoided serious election talk, focusing instead on the kind of silly antics that have been missing on competing shows.
“If you come to us for the sharp political take, it’s your fault,” he said.
For sure. And our relief.
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