this week in late night

This Week in Late Night: For the Debates, Late Night Goes Live!

Debate raps! Photo: YouTube

Many hosts stay in late night for years and years and years because it can be a cushy gig. Taping ends at 6 something, and you can lock the night’s edit in and go home to your family. But some sadists decided the first debates of the 2020 election demanded live coverage, which meant four hosts — Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Fallon — had to stay up past their bedtimes. So did their guests and their audiences. That’s why Seth Meyers booked Terry Crews.

The YouTube clip version doesn’t show it, but Crews danced his way to the stage, vamping and kicking his perfect loafers, getting the crowd hyped for sitting up straight at 1 in the morning. Crews is great at live TV, even if he didn’t touch on the reason the show was live. The man stayed apolitical, talking about hosting his high-school talent show instead of Beto’s passable Spanish. Meyers had already covered the first debate in his Closer Look, where he made sure to get a dig in at de Blasio about the subway sucking. It’s one of the best things about Meyers: The show is for the entire country, yet he insists on talking about the New York subway like it’s Media Twitter or something. Those jokes always bomb, because the audience is full of tourists, but Meyers will not let it go.

Speaking of not letting it go, The Late Show’s audience chanted “AOC! AOC!” when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stopped by the show. It took forever to get them to stop. Stephen Colbert has the chant-iest, clap-iest audience in late night, and it needs to calm down. He actually had to warn his audience to not start a semi-ironic “Lock her up! Lock her up!” about Kellyanne Conway. Colbert’s warm-up comic is doing too good of a job. The live energy made these zealot tendencies even more pronounced.

Meanwhile in pretaped land, Desus & Mero represented the uniformed and uninterested majority. The Bodega Boys aren’t politically disinterested — they’ve drunk with Mayor Pete, fer Chrissakes — but they know it’s not worth getting riled up about 20 goobers a year before the primary. Most people didn’t watch the debates; they’re waiting for Twitter, CNN, and late night to aggregate the good bits for them. More than other hosts’ attempts to brand candidates, Desus and Mero show what weird factoids have bled through to the people. Gillibrand is the one who drinks whiskey, Klobuchar is the one with the comb salad, Warren is the one who didn’t belong in the JV squad Wednesday night.

In the first night of The Daily Show’s debate coverage, “Votegasm 2020,” Trevor Noah asked FiveThirtyEight analyst Perry Bacon Jr. which candidates successfully branded themselves. Bacon said Warren and de Blasio did by raising their hands for Medicare for All, and that John Delaney did by mocking the supposedly outlandish plans of the other more left-leaning candidates. Oddly enough, Noah had mocked the hand-raising moment just minutes before. What a strategist saw as a good branding moment, a comedian saw as some second-grade nonsense. In the interview, Noah said it was a shame the nuance of the debate would get lost in recapping, but his job is to discard nuance in favor of jokes. The first part of his coverage during the second night was devoted to O.J. Simpson watching the debates, as it should be! That shit is funny. But I’m sure we missed some nuance of the Harris–Biden confrontation to make room for the Juice.

The Tonight Show went live for the debates as well, with the Roots’ Tarik producing a recap rap in a crazy short amount of time. If you think nuanced policy gets lost in news recaps, imagine what gets trimmed just to make a rhyme work. Jimmy Fallon stood next to Tarik with a selection of helpful images, to aid our listening comprehension I guess. It was a fun game, crafting a hip-hop summary of two nights of debates, but it didn’t inform. Nor should it have to. When people get their news from comedy, where are they supposed to get their comedy? Marianne Williamson, duh, but I worry about what happens when she’s gone.

The Week the Debates Took Over Late Night