this week in late night

The Best Late-Night Jokes Are for No One

Emily Spivey and Seth Meyers on Late Night. Photo: NBC/YouTube

For the longest time, late-night television was the monoculture. Johnny Carson was the one thing all of America could agree on (or at least the segment of America advertisers cared about). Jokes had to have beyond universal appeal— something for Middle America that, in the words of Futurama’s network bot, is “going to get them off their tractors.”

But that TV landscape is dead. Nothing is going to appeal to everyone ever again, if it ever did. Because of the internet, the dissenters will always be visible. Now, the best jokes are ones that particularly zing with the host. The internet audience can smell fear, can take screenshots of every dead-eyed moment of pandering. Better for a good joke to be for no one than a passable joke be for everyone. This week was chock-full of jokes for no one. Let’s look at the best.

5. Whoopi Goldberg Just Wants to Talk About her Book, Dammit!

Whoopi Goldberg gives no fucks. She will tell Stephen Colbert to his face that she doesn’t watch his show, nor any shows for that matter. And she’s not going to keep the Trump ball in the air for him, so stop asking. Whoopi expressed something most of us feel: complete and total news exhaustion. None of the will-they-won’t-they-impeach stuff is actually working for us, so why talk about it anymore? Trump comedy is dead. Negging hosts to their face is the new hotness.

4. Mark Ronson Is a Better Actor Than Jimmy Fallon, Demi Moore, or Justin Hartley

The Tonight Show is live this week, and the writers are taking advantage by trying to get Fallon to break as much as possible. Noted sapiosexual Mark Ronson absolutely crushed “Cue Card Cold Read,” panning even deader than real-life actors Justin Hartley and Demi Moore. It takes a real brainfucker to say this without laughing: “Roses are red, violets are blue. One time I got my penis stuck in a pool filter. The paramedics didn’t show up for three months. It was the best summer ever.” Okay, he laughed a little, but he regained composure quickly. Justin Hartley said “bab” instead of “dab.”

3. Conan Does Joke Lists Right

I’m very wary of joke lists. A long list of funny things is often a symptom of a lazy writers’ room. You pitched a bunch of jokes to fill one slot, and rather than go late to pick the actual best joke video-game name, you just plop in your top 12. But when the list heightens (like Key & Peele’s “East/West College Bowl”), a joke list is a true art form. This fake streaming service from Conan is super-fun. I would honestly pay for a streaming service that curates the best of Russian dashboard-cam videos. But the best moment is the CGI recreation of Grey Gardens. You need so much knowledge to make the joke work: You need to remember those weird CGI news recreations, you need to know the plot of Grey Gardens, you need to know how raccoon-heavy it is, and you need to be a fan of that classic dancing baby from Ally McBeal. Truly a joke for no one.

2. Emily Spivey and Seth Meyers Reminisce

One of the best things Seth Meyers does is reminisce about sketches that bombed with former SNL writers and performers. This week, he and Bless the Harts creator Emily Spivey chatted about a sketch written by Colin Jost that went absolutely nowhere. Jost came up with the idea of Michael McDonald opening a restaurant called McDonald’s, somehow being unaware of the most popular quick-service restaurant of all time. Michael McDonald is a perfect and historic reference for sketch comedy, but the premise-heavy sketch was never ever going to work. Spivey and Meyers recalled a punch-up sesh when they tried their darndest to make it work. Come for the behind-the-scenes talk, stay for the falsetto.

1. Jameela Jamil Hooped a Slim Jim

Okay, some jokes are still universal. A pretty lady saying “butt plug” on live national television will always work. Jameela Jamil is an awkward faux pas machine in a model’s body, and she can’t help but go off book. A cute bit about Jamil hiding snacks in her dress at the Emmy’s went off the rails the minute she implied she smuggled Slim Jims up her ass. God bless the director who stayed on Questlove for the reaction shots.

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The Best Late-Night Jokes Are for No One