this week in late night

New Lows for Trump Brought Out New Lows in Late-Night Comedy

Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. Photo: Comedy Central

It’s official: Trump is bad for comedy. Three late-night shows made the same “Trump has no bones” joke this week. All three of these shows were nominated for Emmys this year.

In response to his “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” tweet, Late Night With Seth Meyers, The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, and Jimmy Kimmel Live! all said Trump looks like he has no bones in his body at all. Two even used the same photo.

It makes sense that writers would jump for this easy, appearance-based joke. Things that should have bones are funny when they have no bones. It was true in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, it’s true when characters in video games spontaneously deflate, and it’s true now. What’s not funny is the country’s descent into an authoritarian state. Wordplay is easier to get a laugh out of than Trump’s continuing work to make “white” and “American” two completely overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. Jimmy Fallon tried the latter, turning Trump’s statement that “If you’re not happy, you can leave” into a parody of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

I do not understand how this little ditty is supposed to razz the president, nor do I get the song about Prime Day that followed it. Was it spon? Did Jimmy just have a particularly musical week, even for him? He also re-created Stranger Things’ “Neverending Story” duet with Stephen Colbert, again without a particular take on the material besides “singing is fun.”

Samantha Bee pointed out that Trump has been saying “Go back to where you came from” since the ’70s, so we really should have seen this nadir coming. Many of the jokes in Bee’s piece were at her own expense, like overdoing it at Sephora and sleep-yelling. That’s one way to steer around the horror. Colbert also turned inward Thursday night, asking his crowd to “please chant responsibly.”

Colbert is getting sick of the “Stephen! Stephen!” I’m beyond sick of it. Earlier this week, his audience chanted for him to show fishing pics from his vacation, and I threw my computer into a ravine. The cult of personality swirling around Colbert is a shadow image of the one surrounding Trump. Both suck. And both could learn something from Desus and Mero.

Desus and Mero have loyal stans, a.k.a. the Bodega Hive. They’ve got a call-and-response noise. But when they talk about Trump, it’s way more fun. It’s partially because the jokes are off-the-cuff, but the main joy comes from how they barely touch on Trump. The best bit in their racist-tweet coverage was about how AOC still tweets like she’s about to fight someone in the Bronx.

On Late Night With Seth Meyers, Nicole Wallace said her show made a point of not rereading Trump’s tweets. She doesn’t want to put more of that noise out there, even if it’s in the guise of critiquing it. This is the way to go. Responding to Trump is letting him dictate the agenda, both politically and comedically. Reading and replying to his tweets not only spreads his message further, it brings one’s comedic thinking down to his level. Just talk about fishing instead. I guarantee that the audience will still go nuts for it.

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New Lows for Trump Brought Out New Lows in Late-Night Comedy