The Age of Monochromatic Late-Night Humor
Late-night comedy has become the sound of left-hand clapping.
Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and Jay Leno kept you awake by making you laugh. The tiresome political antics of today’s late-night dilettantes make you wish you’d gone to bed early.
It’s not a question so much of left or right as it is of having a bunch of one-track-minds. The punchline is always the same: Orange Man Bad, Orange Man Evil, Orange Man Crazy. Every night, all the time. As predictable as Pravda during the Brezhnev years -- and just as amusing.
Jay Leno -- who is funny -- commented on badgering in the guise of "comedy" this month during an interview with Al Roker of NBC’s Today show.
"It's different," Leno said. "I don't miss it. You know, everything now is, if people don't like your politics, they — everyone has to know your politics." Perhaps because today’s late-night hosts insist you know their politics.
Most comedians are innately damaged and insecure people, which could explain the Roman candle display of virtue signaling on a nightly basis.
Is there any doubt about the political leanings of the two Jimmies -- and the one Colbert? How about the predictable Seth Meyers or the limey James Corden? Their orientation is as obvious as Liberace's.
The Jimmies -- and the one Colbert -- not only want to make sure you know where they stand, they practically demand you stand there, too.
Contrast them with Leno, Carson, Jack Paar, or The Merv Griffin Show. We knew they were funny. We had no idea how they voted. They were wise enough to know that we didn't want to know their political preferences. It's true that in show business you're supposed to "show" what you are feeling, but, sadly, all I hear nowadays is what MSNBC is feeling.
What people want is a clever gag, a good belly laugh, and to be in on the joke rather than the butt of it. “The theory when we did the show was you just watch the news, we’ll make fun of the news, and you get your mind off the news,” Leno explained.
Everyone in the news was Leno's target. Left, right, and in between. They all got pie in the face. The audience didn’t get a finger-wagging scolding. The same could not be said of David Letterman, who started to transform into a bearded bohemian left-wing Marxist Studies professor toward the end of his run.
Letterman should be viewed as a John the Baptist figure for today's late night liberal chicanery.
Leno told the Today Show that he knew he was doing his job as long as he got hate mail equally from both sides -- and laughs from everyone. Leno’s successors seem to regard their audiences -- which are declining -- as the targets. Not of humor, but of proselytizing.
Between the three broadcast networks, you have five hetero white guys, all telling the same jokes. “You just have one subject that’s the same topic every night, " Leno sighed. It "makes it very hard." And, very boring.
Five unctuous, admonishing liberal Caucasians who don't like Trump. And make it very clear. Over and over and over and over. How exciting and creative.
Ok, guys -- we get it. People go to church to hear preaching. And they go because there's no pretense about the preaching. People get what they came for.
Late-night comedy was different -- once. At some point, someone decided all jokes must be political and priggish. In case you haven't been paying attention since JFK was assassinated, the news always kind of sucks.
People used to tune in for humor not hate. Now the high priests of Trump hostility feed their disciples right on past midnight.
Johnny -- and Jay and even talented guys like Craig Ferguson -- did take sides, of course. If it was funny, it was fair game. The two Jimmies -- and the one Colbert -- only think it's funny if it involves ripping conservative media or elected Republicans.
The people who support the president -- or anything that isn't hard left -- are now the object of ridicule, which is something very different from humor.
No big surprise, Leno’s old show -- The Tonight Show -- has been hemorrhaging viewers in tandem with the other monochromatic monologuers -- ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The latter is still the “most watched” of the late-night not-so-funny-shows, but only because it has lost fewer viewers than the others.
Fallon and Kimmel’s audiences have dropped by about 10 percent each, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Their overall numbers are also weak; Colbert’s show averages 3.67 million viewers; Fallon’s just 2.44. Kimmel is just barely over the 2 million threshold.
To put that in some perspective, Jay Leno’s last appearance as host of the Tonight Show back in 2014 was viewed by 14.6 million people, according to E! News. While he was in the chair that Steve Allen built, Leno’s audience, even at low ebb, was always about twice that of Colbert’s, Fallon’s and Kimmel’s.
Probably because Leno -- like Johnny before him -- knew the difference between humor and ridicule. “Clinton was horny -- and Bush was dumb.” They never implied their audience -- America -- was. Colbert, Fallon, and Kimmel do imply that. Their jokes are more like progressive homilies -- tedious ones -- from people who have no business giving them.
They are like the plumber who can't fix pipes but doesn’t like your wallpaper; the roofer who doesn't know how to shingle but wants to tell you all about his new Chevrolet; or the dentist who tries to impress you with his singing voice.
It's not what you hired them to do.
But they keep on doing it -- in the case of the two Jimmies and the one Colbert -- because they think the laugh track in the audience is actual laughter and because their fellow lib celebs clap them on the back after the show and tell them hurrah! for pointing out that Trump stinks one more time.
But outside the studio -- beyond the Beltway -- one increasingly only hears the sound of left-hand clapping.