this week in late night

The Alchemy Between Late-Night Host and Guest

Samantha Bee on Full Frontal. Photo: TBS

One of the joys of watching all of late night every week is seeing a guest blossom through a press junket. Jennifer Aniston on Kimmel will be different from Jennifer Aniston on Corden with Dolly Parton. A talk show is alchemy: The host reacts with the guest, and you’re left with either gold or a big, smoking crater. Julia Roberts went on The Late Show this week, and it was worlds away from her appearance on Busy Tonight.

On Busy, Roberts aimed a leaf blower at her face for the ‘gram. She was game and giggly. With Stephen Colbert, she was guarded. I felt like I was watching Frost/Nixon. Colbert tried to start a feud between Roberts and her Ben Is Back co-star Lucas Hedges. The titular Ben threw shade at Roberts’s Thanksgiving turkey. Colbert did not need to rub it in her face, yet he chose to do so.

Colbert is always performing for the home-viewing audience. He is consistently aware that he is doing a show with his name on it. There are a lot of looks to camera and intentional quips. He goes for witty. Kimmel is similar. While he tries to make his reactions seem off-the-cuff, you can really still see the artifice in the conversation. His interview with Karen Gillan this week felt like rattling off a checklist. But there’s also more room for prepared gags. Kimmel loves a prank. Look at what he did to poor Justin Theroux.

Fallon, on the other hand, wants to be a pal. This is his defining trait and will probably come up in his obituary one day: “Jimmy Fallon, chummy to all, even tyrants” or something. His style puts a primacy on making the guest feel comfortable; it’s more important to Fallon than the quips-per-minute or if he looks good. When a handshake with Margot Robbie went awry, Fallon took the fall. He let Robbie look cool and collected, triumphing in the face of adversity — the adversity of having to interact with a complete mess of a man.

Seth Meyers seems to be the most genuinely interested in his subjects. When he interviews, it feels like authentic questions and not the mere setting up of anecdotes. Maybe it’s because of his booker, with whom I am deeply in love. They have put up Rufus Wainwright, Jake Shears, and David Sedaris in the past month-ish. It was like I was in college all over again. That trifecta is as clear a portrait of mid-aughts queer youth as “Thank U, Next” is of straight-girl teendom.

Speaking of “Thank U, Next” and queer awakenings, the one thing all late-night hosts have in common is that they want to fuck Jeff Goldblum. Both Samantha Bee and James Corden hopped on the Goldblum jazz-album press train to make elaborate film parodies about how hot Dr. Malcolm is. Corden’s was a parody of a parody. “Thank U, Jeff” remade scenes from “Thank U, Next,” which in turn was entirely comprised of scenes from late-’90s-early-aughts teen rom-coms. But the clip of the week has to go to the Full Frontal Christmas on I.C.E. promo clip.

Love Actually is canceled now, I think, and this sketch was an ad for a holiday special that has yet to air. But I could look at that drawing of stick–Sam Bee fucking stick-Jeff all day. In fact, it’s my Christmas wish.

The Alchemy Between Late-Night Host and Guest