this week in late night

When the (Late-Night) Show Must Go On

Matthew McConaughey, Jimmy Fallon, and the Roots’ Tariq Trotter on The Tonight Show. Photo: NBC

Late night’s biggest strength and greatest weakness is the fact that something has to go on air every night. Okay, not literally every night, but many nights. So when the head of your network is ousted, or tonight’s guest says some problematic shit, the show must indeed go on. There are two options: acknowledge or avoid. I hesitate to say one is unilaterally a better choice, but obviously acknowledging the problem is a better choice. It’s certainly braver to address things head-on, if less tactful. Avoiding awkward conversations on your comedy show is entirely justified. Jimmy Fallon shouldn’t feel the need to make his show a forum for the great debates of our time, unless those debates also take place while trying to shove through a door in a fat suit or some such nonsense. People come to these shows to laugh and unwind. Confronting harsh truths isn’t relaxing. To quote Mr. Show, “TV must be nice, for the nice people.”

This week was full of late night’s niceness being interrupted by the truly batshit times in which we live. When Les Moonves left CBS after a new round of sexual-assault/harassment allegations against him, both Stephen Colbert and James Corden acknowledged it. Corden went for a heartfelt “these truths must be told, support the survivors” speech. Colbert, on the other hand, guessed that Moonves will be back in nine months, just like Louis C.K.

Meanwhile on the avoidance tip, The Tonight Show canceled Norm Macdonald’s appearance after the backlash to an interview he gave to The Hollywood Reporter. Macdonald said that he was glad #MeToo was slowing down, and that his close friends Roseanne Barr and Louis C.K. had suffered in a way that their victims had not. “There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day,” he said. “Of course, people will go, ‘What about the victims?’ But you know what? The victims didn’t have to go through that.”

When it was brought to his attention that their victims were denied the opportunity to acquire “everything,” Macdonald apologized on Twitter. However, The Tonight Show decided they didn’t need that heat. The day after he was bumped, Macdonald attempted to apologize for his actions by telling Howard Stern that “you’d have to have Down syndrome to not feel sorry” for the victims of #MeToo. Macdonald apologized for that comment, too. It would appear that Fallon dodged a bullet by not having him on. I would honestly rather see a rock block of Matthew McConaughey than Norm Macdonald apologize for apologizing poorly.

McConaughey was delightful Tuesday night. He rolled with the punches like a true Zen master and kept supplying anecdotes about airstream trailers. McConaughey has lived more while camping than I have in my entire existence.

It’s not surprising that Colbert acknowledged his network’s problems while Fallon avoided his. When Bill Clinton made a total dingus of himself on The View, Colbert addressed it on his show the following night. When Alex Trebek grew a similar beard, Colbert addressed it. It’s a compulsion. Kimmel is a similarly compulsive lampshade hanger. He’ll ask Kanye about Donald Trump, he’ll ask Kim about Kanye, he don’t give a fuck. Christina Aguilera stopped by Jimmy’s show Wednesday, and he had to make her whole interview about the Cardi B/Nicki/Rah Ali fight. A fight that took place at Xtina’s show is more interesting than anything she might be promoting, and Kimmel is not going to pretend otherwise.

All late-night hosts can be categorized as avoiders or acknowledgers. Colbert, Kimmel, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver are all acknowledgers. Seth Meyers is on the cusp; he goes either way or lets Amber Ruffin do the acknowledging for him. Fallon and Corden are really only here to have a good time. They don’t bring dark stuff up if they can help it. It’s against their brands, and Corden is too British to state anything too obviously. His silence on Beat the Meatles is deafening. He never stops talking about Sir Paul. Just a day before the news broke, he and Rob Lowe were trading Beatles stories.

The man spent hours in a car with his idol, and soon after a huge story about mutual masturbation breaks, and Corden says nothing?! This is the one time when speaking out is a moral imperative. The whole world is watching, Mr. Corden.

When the (Late-Night) Show Must Go On