The Sunday Magazine: Late-Night Talk Shows circa 2018


One of the things I was looking forward to writing about in this column, when I started Colognoisseur, was the late-night television shows on the major networks. As I’ve recounted in those previous columns these shows have provided me companionship while staying up way too late. They have been a part of my life for over forty years now.

When I was writing about them in the first two years we were entering what I expected to be the next great era of this genre. CBS had Stephen Colbert and James Corden, NBC had Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, and ABC had Jimmy Kimmel. One of the reasons I watch is because in those five shows there was a dose of levity mined from a specific perspective which allowed me to turn the light off with a smile. There was a distinct variety to choose from.

For most of 2016 it was all that I desired as I could watch Mr. Kimmel for prankish humor along with the occasional Matt Damon skit. Mr. Fallon’s Box of Lies is still one of my favorite late-night bits. Mr. Colbert was showing his pop culture chops with brilliant cold opens with big stars. Mr. Meyers was the most topical as he gave his version of “Weekday Update”. Mr. Corden’s love of music lead to Carpool Karaoke and Crosswalk Musicals. Then in November 2016 something happened; the US had an election.

In the past the current President of the US was always a part of the nightly monologues but it was just that; a part. Over the past few months it has turned out that jokes about the President are not part of the monologue; it is the monologue. Instead of competing for original comedic material spanning many things I have been disappointed to find them spending too much time on one thing. They have thrown out variety for who can have the best President joke on the night.

I’m not saying that the President should be excepted from being the butt of jokes. That has been a part of late-night television for as long as I watched. Almost every night I know I’ve heard one joke at the expense of whoever was the current resident of the White House. It just feels unbalanced right now.

Over the past week I watched with this in mind. All five shows focused on the same Presidential events. All the shows spent up to half their monologue or pre-taped skits depended on them. Many of the jokes were variants of the others.

I understand the soul of a monologue should be current events but it doesn’t have to be all-politics and the President. I miss the days when they spent the same amount of time mining the latest silly YouTube viral video for laughs.

I have found myself turning off the television lately because my old friends have begun speaking in the same voice. What seemed like a Renaissance in late-night is starting to feel monotonous and mediocre. I am hoping that this will change because it worries me that what was fantastic is on the verge of being lost.

Mark Behnke