Current Events > "How liberal late night TV became a comedy sinkhole"

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Antifar
04/15/19 5:01:20 PM
1
https://bit.ly/2Iu0MTU
...
You could fairly accuse me of hating late-night talk shows long before they transformed into entertainment for Resistance Boomers who think that calling Trump the Cheeto-in-Chief is devastatingly clever. For me, they are a frustrating waste of awesome talent. Its painful to watch someone like Colbert, who makes me double up in laughter with his performance in the oddball 90s sitcom Strangers With Candy, go through the paces of yet another weeknight monologue on the presidents bald hypocrisies. Then there are the people behind the scenes, toiling at bits they know are jarringly uncomical, with no way of challenging the hierarchy that demands them.

One such writer, a man with an impressive rsum, reached out to me as I started this piece. He works at one of the major network late-night shows, and hes despondent. (For obvious reasons, I wont reveal his identity or other specifics on his employer.)

I have been venting about this very shit to [a friend] for about five months now, he writes to me in a Twitter DM. To me, this is all because of two big things, one being that the late night writers rooms are all extremely homogeneous groups of cynical, miserable white comedy dudes who figure out the formula for the show early on and then never really work harder than they need to. Which makes sense, because the other big thing is that the people who make the actual decisions on these shows are all older, white dudes who are out of touch (but dont think they are) and are never thinking in terms of comedy or upending power or doing anything interesting with the format, they just maintain the status quo and follow a formula of thing weve done + a celebrity = hit.

No doubt this was the same dynamic that gave us the first wave of late-night political hackery, when Bill Clintons rampant horniness and abuse of office turned into a parade of repetitive innuendo and cruel jokes at Monica Lewinskys expense (for which Letterman, at least, has voiced some regret). This time around, the stagnation makes for a punishingly superficial critique of Trumps tenure and the man himself.

Its only natural that these Trump takedowns would lack the substance of, say, the Stewart-Hitchens confrontation. With rare exceptions, Kimmel, Corden, Colbert, Conan, Fallon and Meyers arent trying to push us anywhere uncomfortable; theyre who you watch to unwind at bedtime. This means papering over much of the true horror of being alive in this country right now migrant family separation, emboldened Nazis, environmental and kleptocratic plunder to feast on low-hanging fruit.

Monologue-wise, theres just a bunch of shortcuts-to-jokes that every writer knows to hit for Trump stories now, the exasperated TV writer tells me. Talk about Trump loving fast food, reference a photo where he looks awful, call him orange, mention the Stormy Daniels thing (always in some not-so-thinly-veiled anti-sex-work way), say he tweets a lot, use one of his catchphrases like Fake News, etc. Everyones on autopilot.

He adds, Trying to push any new idea, even if its low-risk, is a series of hurdles that almost always ends in different producers saying they dont see it, or shutting it down because they dont get a reference that the entire rest of the world would get, or bristling at the idea of even mentioning race/gender/sex in any creative way that isnt already some catchphrase on a department store T-shirt.

In his writers room, he says, they dont even have the freedom to pursue different, evergreen subjects, because the Trump stuff got more engagement and sort of legitimized them as a show with a point of view, which is nonsense. Its really just trying to chase John Oliver. But if they wanted to follow the model of HBOs Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, arguably the best comedy/news hybrid of the moment, theyd have to renovate their show from top to bottom.

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Antifar
04/15/19 5:03:09 PM
2
Besides, the success of Last Week Tonight has less to do with its roasting of Trump than a willingness to wander into the weeds on arcane or poorly understood stories to make sense of Americas fundamental brokenness. You get real information there.

The TV writer explains that this isnt something most late-night talk shows are equipped to offer, at least not anymore, so long as they cling to an outmoded approach: At this point it feels like the only reason they acknowledge Trump is because he is the news, and ignoring him would be noticeable, he says though that also means weve had our fill of him already. Who in the goddamn hell is hungry for extra Trump analysis? Ive honestly never understood the notion of commenting on the news in late night anyway, he adds, but I think its just a relic of a time when you might legitimately be learning about things for the first time at 11 p.m. But now, with Twitter and a million different outlets for news, late-night monologues are [hacky] by 11 a.m.
...
Another man in the industry (he describes himself as a mid-level TV writer, though not of the late-night sphere) tells me via Twitter DM that the skin-deep stabs at Trump arent intended to be apolitical rather, theyre coded as courageous. They think [joking about] covfefe is brave, he argues. These are people whose version of liberal just means not being white trash. And not calling their coworkers gay slurs. Of course, that doesnt stand in the way of their homophobic gloss on the Trump-Putin relationship.

This derangement presumably stems from a refusal to face the America that propelled Trump to the White House. For all they hate him, they yearn, as he does, for a lost country that younger generations view with skepticism. No one wants to confront the fact that they grew up in a time that was pretty sexist and racist because then theyd have to stop being nostalgic for everything, this writer says. See: Aaron Sorkin. As such, the anti-Trump Boomers faithfully catered to by the older, more powerful figures in TV while, allegedly, the newcomers there are told to shut up and use the tired playbook, because thats what works settle into a smug superiority that lets them vent their classist contempt. Thats true of some of the hosts and writing staffs, too. Bill Maher isnt actually liberal, he just hates people from Alabama, the second writer says. When I reframe that idea as I shop at Whole Foods, so Im not a reactionary, he replies, [This is] the politics of 75 percent of Hollywood writers. And so thats the ideology served.

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TheGoldenEel
04/15/19 5:03:38 PM
3
What site does your disguised link take me to
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Antifar
04/15/19 5:04:08 PM
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Melmagazine.com; the link was too long to fit under the character limit
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CanuckCowboy
04/15/19 5:04:08 PM
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TheGoldenEel posted...
What site does your disguised link take me to

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clearaflagrantj
04/15/19 5:04:28 PM
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Orange man bad
EffectAndCause
04/15/19 5:04:48 PM
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Can I please get a tl;dr?
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s0nicfan
04/15/19 5:05:23 PM
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A few other people have touched on this in the past. IIRC Norm Macdonald got in some minor drama when he called political comedy lazy, and Christopher Hitchens flipped off Maher's audience once and called them all stupid for laughing at the same jokes night after night. I'm sure there are more examples out there.
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Antifar
04/15/19 5:07:40 PM
9
EffectAndCause posted...
Can I please get a tl;dr?

Rather than take any risks with their late night programming, TV execs have contented with themselves with lazily going after low-hanging Trump fruit every night, which chafes the writers quoted here.
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green butter
04/15/19 5:07:43 PM
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EffectAndCause posted...
Can I please get a tl;dr?

a whole lot of words to say that tv writers are lazy and the boomers have a lousy sense of humor
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ToPoPO
04/15/19 5:07:49 PM
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Sounds like this board
King_Hutton
04/15/19 5:08:26 PM
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Cant imagine anyone would argue with this article.
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Paper_Okami
04/15/19 5:08:47 PM
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Trump humor is so boring. What the guy says on a regular basis is odder than anyone would come up with.

He's a caricature of person, and yet he's somehow real.
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ehhwhatever
04/15/19 5:09:39 PM
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you have to control the audience's mind now (including star wars)
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Doom_Art
04/15/19 5:11:00 PM
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ehhwhatever posted...
you have to control the audience's mind now (including star wars)

...?
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masterpug53
04/15/19 5:11:05 PM
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King_Hutton posted...
Cant imagine anyone would argue with this article.


You might get a couple posters who instantly bristle at the assertion that John Oliver is the top comedy+news program in the game right now. But this would require them to read the entire first post. ...at least that was the case until I just made light of it.
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Complete_Idi0t
04/15/19 5:12:09 PM
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It's all NBCs fault for cancelling Conan obrien
Compsognathus
04/15/19 5:14:25 PM
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I don't necessarily disagree with anything here. Don't get me wrong, I am no fan of Trump, and he absolutely should be dragged over some of his decisions and behaviors, but if you are going to do that it needs to be with some actual new joke content. If Trump doing X is just going to warrant a repackaged small hands joke, don't bother.
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ehhwhatever
04/15/19 5:14:37 PM
19
Doom_Art posted...
ehhwhatever posted...
you have to control the audience's mind now (including star wars)

...?

Late night shows have an audience and they writers etc says we have to control people's mind, Stepehn Colbert comes to mind and he was hosting the new star wars trailer to control people's minds about Trump, it's just obvious to me.
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creativerealms
04/15/19 5:15:57 PM
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How dare they make fun of a republican president. You are only allowed to make fun of democrats.

Thats what the complaints boil down to.
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Dampproof
04/15/19 5:17:12 PM
21
Late night comedy has poked fun at the President for 30+ years before but because it is the Cheeto in Chief looking for a safe space.

President shouldn't be such a snowflake.
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Tryhaptaward
04/15/19 5:17:52 PM
22
creativerealms posted...
How dare they make fun of a republican president. You are only allowed to make fun of democrats.

Thats what the complaints boil down to.


"Trump is Orange"

creativerealms lasts profusely
EffectAndCause
04/15/19 5:18:34 PM
23
I just think its exhausting at this point. I love John Olivers show when it talks about anything besides Trump.

Im a pretty liberal Democrat and I agree with everything he says about Trump, but its just low hanging fruit at this point, but at the same time, isnt that fucking Trumps fault for saying or doing something moronic or offensive EVERY DAY?
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King_Hutton
04/15/19 5:18:48 PM
24
ehhwhatever posted...
Doom_Art posted...
ehhwhatever posted...
you have to control the audience's mind now (including star wars)

...?

Late night shows have an audience and they writers etc says we have to control people's mind, Stepehn Colbert comes to mind and he was hosting the new star wars trailer to control people's minds about Trump, it's just obvious to me.

What in the fuck are you even trying to communicate
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ClockworkHare
04/15/19 5:19:45 PM
25
clearaflagrantj posted...
Orange man bad

RJWLueVJ1NeJiUdGqs

Clap and laugh or you support bigotry and teh PATREEYARKY!!1
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Prestoff
04/15/19 5:19:49 PM
26
I kind of agree that Trump at this point is a low hanging fruit, but the reason for that is that he gives these comedians material every single day with his stupid antics and tweets.
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Lordgold666
04/15/19 5:19:49 PM
27
Lol
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King_Hutton
04/15/19 5:21:49 PM
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Prestoff posted...
I kind of agree that Trump at this point is a low hanging fruit, but the reason for that is that he gives these comedians material every single day with his stupid antics and tweets.

But the jokes just arent very clever

Like its awful how Colbert can have intelligent discussions with politicians but every monologue is a boring Trump did/said this, isnt that stupid? Doesnt have he small hands, love hookers and Putin? *Trump voice*
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thanosibe
04/15/19 5:24:36 PM
30
Prestoff posted...
I kind of agree that Trump at this point is a low hanging fruit, but the reason for that is that he gives these comedians material every single day with his stupid antics and tweets.
I can agree with this sentiment. But also low hanging fruit jokes get old real fast. Especially if that's all a comedian is doing. Put some thought and creativity behind your jokes. Just because Trump baits with his ignorance doesn't mean comedians and talk shows have to take the bait.
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Prestoff
04/15/19 5:24:56 PM
31
King_Hutton posted...
Prestoff posted...
I kind of agree that Trump at this point is a low hanging fruit, but the reason for that is that he gives these comedians material every single day with his stupid antics and tweets.

But the jokes just arent very clever

Like its awful how Colbert can have intelligent discussions with politicians but every monologue is a boring Trump did/said this, isnt that stupid? Doesnt have he small hands, love hookers and Putin? *Trump voice*


I'll give you that. I don't find them all that funny anymore and most of the humor is already from Trump's stupidity, not the jokes themselves.

Like I love John Olivers show when it's not about Trump.
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fenderbender321
04/15/19 5:25:00 PM
32
It all started with Jon Stewart, too.

He would literally tell the same boring, non-clever jokes every night.
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s0nicfan
04/15/19 5:26:59 PM
33
fenderbender321 posted...
It all started with Jon Stewart, too.

He would literally tell the same boring, non-clever jokes every night.


You take that back! Jon Stewart is a national treasure.
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Smashingpmkns
04/15/19 5:28:13 PM
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Most of John Oliver and Conan's stuff are not about Trump
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Compsognathus
04/15/19 5:30:10 PM
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Smashingpmkns posted...
Most of John Oliver and Conan's stuff are not about Trump

It's worth noting that John Oliver is effectively held as the exception in this piece. Conan isn't mentioned at all. Of course Conan has always courted a different audience than the traditional late night powers.
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Balrog0
04/15/19 5:30:41 PM
36
s0nicfan posted...
A few other people have touched on this in the past. IIRC Norm Macdonald got in some minor drama when he called political comedy lazy, and Christopher Hitchens flipped off Maher's audience once and called them all stupid for laughing at the same jokes night after night. I'm sure there are more examples out there.


Maher's show is better. about this than many others more, too
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Turtlemayor333
04/15/19 5:30:42 PM
37
It's not like conservative humor is doing any better. It always comes across as punching down.

On Tim Allen's show I think every third joke contains the word "millennials"
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Prestoff
04/15/19 5:31:04 PM
38
Why are they showing Jimmy Fallons face? From what I recall, the guy barely makes any Trump or political jokes in general.
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s0nicfan
04/15/19 5:32:04 PM
39
Prestoff posted...
Why are they showing Jimmy Fallons face? From what I recall, the guy barely makes any Trump or political jokes in general.


I'll never understand how that man made it out of SNL. Dude ruined every sketch he was in.
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Antifar
04/15/19 5:35:52 PM
40
creativerealms posted...
How dare they make fun of a republican president. You are only allowed to make fun of democrats.

Thats what the complaints boil down to.

This is not, actually, where the article is coming from.
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Antifar
04/15/19 5:36:57 PM
41
Turtlemayor333 posted...
It's not like conservative humor is doing any better.

No one suggested it was
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Raikuro
04/15/19 5:55:17 PM
42
Too bad The Colbert Report can't come back. The layer of mocking Trump worshippers added would make it more enjoyable. Just plain old Trump jokes are so stale.
mustachedmystic
04/15/19 5:56:54 PM
43
Meanwhile, Trump tweets a meme, and his supporters laugh so hard their intestines burst out of their gut like snakes in a can.
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Spooking
04/15/19 5:58:31 PM
44
*Jimmy Fallon fake laughs for 5 minutes*
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Antifar
04/15/19 6:07:50 PM
45
mustachedmystic posted...
Meanwhile, Trump tweets a meme, and his supporters laugh so hard their intestines burst out of their gut like snakes in a can.

Those people are very stupid!
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Shadowplay
04/15/19 6:12:54 PM
46
Prestoff posted...
Why are they showing Jimmy Fallons face? From what I recall, the guy barely makes any Trump or political jokes in general.

Showing Bill Maher is also a mistake; his show is based around politics and he doesn't just spout stock liberal talking points like the others.
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RiderofHogs
04/15/19 6:18:44 PM
47
creativerealms posted...
How dare they make fun of a republican president. You are only allowed to make fun of democrats.

Thats what the complaints boil down to.

Did you even read the article?

The argument is the writers want to write real comedy, not generic stale political humor rehashing the same shit every night.
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Anteaterking
04/15/19 6:23:38 PM
48
Late night talk shows on broadcast TV have always seemed kind of bad. I guess now there's more repetition in how they're bad.

I agree with most of the article, but it seems to be a bit of two minds in places. I don't think that the alternative to what's currently happening would be that talk show hosts would push boundaries on political issues in leftist approved ways. I think it would just mean they would return to their non-political roots.
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CyricZ
04/15/19 6:45:59 PM
49
It's good to know that there are at least some comedy writers exhausted with this prospect, and cheers for the good words about LWT, which is really the only late night I watch anymore.

I still love Colbert as a guy and as a comedian but his show is just so banal I can barely pay attention, to say nothing of the rest which I freely ignore.
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CyricZ
TaiIs82
04/15/19 8:58:51 PM
50
No one wants to confront the fact that they grew up in a time that was pretty sexist and racist

Oh brother. Pick a decade, heck, pick right now, and it's all the same. You want to know the only thing these dramatic statements make me do? They make me question whether the 50s were really as bad as the press claimed. Because you can pick any year, any year that I was alive where it wasn't bad at all, and the activists will trash it regardless. A lot of it is just their bitter projection, because those guys have race on the mind all day. Pull an SPLC and scream that each year is WORSE than EVER (please please gimme more money), guess what? People eventually tune out the BS.
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masterpug53
04/15/19 9:06:28 PM
52
s0nicfan posted...
Prestoff posted...
Why are they showing Jimmy Fallons face? From what I recall, the guy barely makes any Trump or political jokes in general.


I'll never understand how that man made it out of SNL. Dude ruined every sketch he was in.


I don't like him either, but I have to admit that him cracking up during the Blue Oyster Cult 'Cowbell' sketch - arguably one of the all-time greatest SNL skits - was pretty priceless.
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