Just in case you didn’t believe us when we said that Trump is bad for comedy, here is exhibit 483: Last night, five late-night hosts, each with a team of writers, told essentially the same joke. When New York Times writer Sopan Deb first noted it on Twitter, I assumed that he was exaggerating. He was not. The setup for the joke was that Donald Trump failed to sign his NDA with Stormy Daniels. Here are James Corden, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Kimmel with their punch lines:
Start this clip at 1:16 for the joke.
I am not implying that anyone stole this joke from anyone else, since it would’ve been logistically pretty impossible. If anything, stuff like this disproves joke theft in late-night, as sometimes monologue jokes are math problems with only one answer. (Side note: Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien joked about Daniels, but didn’t make a name joke.) Actually, there is something interesting in seeing the slight variations in how each tells a joke. For example, some of the jokes were about how he likes putting his name on documents, holding big signing ceremonies, while others were about how he likes putting his name on products, buildings, etc. However, they both get at the same fundamentally Trumpian desire to piss on things and to say they’re his.
The problem is not the hosts. It’s the source material. As we wrote a few months ago, “If there is one thing that has defined Trump’s presidency, it’s the rate at which he’s been bad at it. While that might sound like a good thing for comedy — there’s something new to joke about every day! — comics actually don’t need more material. They need people to care about their material long enough for them to make their jokes better.” All comics, especially those in late-night, have been forced to be incredibly reactionary. Take earlier this week, where Colbert had to completely change his monologue right before his show because the “entire news cycle jumped on the bus to crazy town.” Every town is crazy town now — come, my lady, come, come, my lady.
It’s like Top Chef. If you give the contestants all the same ingredients, all their dishes will be pretty similar. And if they’re bad ingredients, all their dishes will be bad. (Except if Adrienne is cooking it. Good luck tonight, Adrienne! No matter what happens, you’re a winner in our hearts.) Every night, each late-night host is essentially asked to cook a Trump steak. And we eat it because we’re starving, even though we know it’s bad for us.