this week in late night

We Need More Late-Night Guests Like Tiffany Haddish

Tiffany Haddish, who is always a delightfully entertaining late-night guest, on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Photo: CBS

Javier Bardem doesn’t know who the Kardashians are, just ask him. Apparently in Spain, the Kardashians are not famous. This week on Conan, Bardem worked very hard to establish the narrative that he wishes to be excluded from the Kardashian narrative.

Javier Bardem is very invested in you knowing what he doesn’t know: who the Kardashians are, how to empathize with ugly people. Here’s the thing though — you can’t not know who the Kardashians are. I don’t care how “from Spain” you are. You have to work at not knowing who the Kardashians are. You have to plug your fingers in your ears and go Lalalalala I can’t hear youuuu” at the majority of culture to not know who the Kardashians are. The amount of effort it would take to willfully ignore the Kardashians would be better spent doing anything else. Learning how to juggle, perhaps. Or voting. But what’s even more galling is that Bardem’s lack of knowledge demonstrated some cursory knowledge. When Conan restated incredulously that he 100 percent did not know who the Kardashians are, the Jeffrey Dean Morgan look-alike replied “Why should I? Have they invented any vaccines that I should know of?” Bardem knew enough about the Kardashians to know that “vaccine inventor” was an improbable source of fame for them. Hedy Lamarr invented Wi-Fi and Karlie Kloss loves to code, so we know that fame and science aren’t mutually exclusive. Bardem knew that the Kardashians weren’t famous for something he holds in esteem, and that in itself is knowledge of the Kardashians.

This was a long, roundabout way into the thesis of this story: Talk-show guests, try harder. I am a very busy woman and the world is on fire. If you want me to find you charming, you are going to have to work for it. Willful ignorance of the Kardashians stopped being cute right around the divorce from Kris Humphries. You can be exhausted with them, you can have cursory knowledge, but a blanket Mariah Carey–style “I don’t know her” is simply not going to cut it in 2018. Kim hasn’t invented a vaccine, but she did get someone freed from prison. The world is so dumb that even smart people have to know dumb shit. Get with the times, Javier Bardem.

I found myself constantly disappointed with the mechanisms of charm that talk-show guests employed this week. Maybe it was the repetitive nature of jokes on the Emmys (faux banter lol, these awards won’t fix you lololololol), maybe it was Norm Macdonald’s looming shadow, or maybe it was the actual news being full of flippant dismissal of sexual assault, but I am fucking tired of people not trying.

I am always on edge, always worried that someone I’ve admired for years is a secret predator or secret supporter of public predators. I am going to need you to at least try to entertain me when you’re on a talk show. That is the first step in making me feel safe — engaging in the social contract that says you care if I’m enjoying myself. Contempt for the audience is a sign that you can’t be trusted, that you already don’t value me. So if you go on Jimmy Kimmel Live to throw shade at your fan base, Peter Dinklage, it stresses me out.

The iconography of (especially male) celebrity always traces back to the Rat Pack. Justin Timberlake did it, the Oceans guys too. Everybody is either a Frank, a Dean, a Sammy, or a misc (Joey Bishop/Peter Lawford/Shirley Maclaine/Don Rickles). Dean Martin gave no fucks. Frank Sinatra gave so many fucks, but pretended not to give any. Sammy Davis Jr. knew his position was tenuous, looked at the bigger picture, cared somewhat, and generally worked extremely hard. To put it in Sex and the City terms, Dean was a Samantha, Sammy was Miranda, and Frank was a Charlotte who thought he was a Carrie. The greatest tragedy of them all.

Javier Bardem and Peter Dinklage were Franks this week. They pretended not to care, but it was boring. True chill is compelling, but it needs accessories. Dean Martin always worked best in contrast to people working harder than he did. Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra were perfect foils to Dean Martin’s drunken apathy because they were anxiously seeking acceptance. Watch this clip of Dean and Frank together on Dean’s show.

Dean’s belief that the audience was on his side was balanced by his partner’s putting in the effort. Frank’s performative nature was balanced by Dean’s confidence. Dean flubs words, Frank adds extra words. It’s about balance. Now watch Ice-T and Mariska Hargitay’s joint interview by Seth Meyers.

Ice-T talking about the checks clearing wouldn’t be as fun if Mariska hadn’t been seeking laughs with jokes about getting so blackout drunk that she didn’t remember acting with a dog. You need hot and cold, sweet and savory. So if you’re a lone guest, you gotta bring both flavors. Give me some effort, give me some confidence.

Give me Tiffany Haddish.

We Need More Late-Night Guests Like Tiffany Haddish