this week in late night

A British Invasion on Late Night, Just in Time for the Midterms

Eddie Redmayne and Jimmy Fallon.
Eddie Redmayne and Jimmy Fallon. Photo: NBC

We did it! We voted. The outcomes may not have all been in our favor, but the midterms are over. (Or they’re not quite over in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona.) At least celebrities will stop yelling at me to do something I was already going to do. And although we’re still dissecting exactly how these elections affect us, one thing is sure: It’s still very high stakes to be an American. What we need is, like, a big brother, somebody to steer us through these choppy waters. We need a Dumbledore, but, like, maybe a sexy Dumbledore. Does such a thing even exist?

Every guest on late night this week was either a political analyst from MSNBC or a charming rogue from across the pond. This week, late night had us coming and going with wizards and nutcrackers and realms, oh my! But no one could have seen how calming their presence would be. When Eddie Redmayne did a silly magic trick on The Tonight Show, I jumped up and down and clapped. I needed magic to be real, if only because border control is completely impossible when floo powder is added to the mix.

Even when things got political, Brits managed to “take the piss,” as they say. Jack Whitehall described the 2016 election as America’s “hold my beer” reaction to Brexit on The Tonight Show. And Sacha Baron Cohen couldn’t have given fewer fucks when he goofed on voter fraud with Jimmy Kimmel.

It’s no shock that late night brought out the big British guns during a stressful week in the States. The British are better at shiny-floor TV than us. There are innumerable stars in the U.K. that exist in a demimonde of panel quizzes, chat shows, and news-commentary shows. These people almost never make it over to America, so rich is the panel cash on the BBC. Have you ever seen Johnny Vegas? I have, and he was brilliant. (British brilliant, which just means very good. Not American brilliant, which means exceedingly smart.) James Corden came from that world. He and Jack Whitehall used to do a lot of panel stuff together. They wore tuxes and ordered in pizza to The Big Fat Quiz of 2012. You don’t pull a move like that until you’ve done every other move there is to pull.

Jack came through James’s new digs, The Late Late Show. The old mates tested their friendship with Corden’s shock-therapy quiz. Zoe Kazan, dressed as a haunted doll, tried to referee. But Corden and Whitehall’s whole shtick is seeing just how shitty they can be to each other and still be considered “cheeky.”

There is a reason late night was choking on steak and kidney pie this week. Prestige and family movies happen to stack their casts with Brits, and we’re in the middle of “movies to avoid talking to your family on Christmas” season. Two movies are coming out soon that take place in fantasyland, a.k.a. England. So maybe the British weren’t coming to reassure us about the midterms, and their rising wave of populist xenophobia is nothing to sneeze at. But it was still nice to see some citizens from an ex-empire prove that you can still be shallow and pithy, even when your country is falling apart. And to that I say “pip pip!” Whatever that means.

The Week the Brits Invaded Late-Night Comedy Shows