this week in late night

Jeremy O. Harris Scamming Seth Meyers Into Saving Theater Won Late Night This Week

Seth Meyers bewildered by scammer to the stars Jeremy O. Harris. Photo: YouTube

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And this year, by “most wonderful,” I mean most nostalgia-inducing, as the holidays have arrived, and instead of office parties and eggnog and mistletoe, this year the vibe is more “stalk the news for updates on the state of the vaccine.” But there was some news in the late-night sphere this week to make the season bright: The Amber Ruffin Show has received an additional ten-episode order from Peacock, confirming that the show will continue into 2021. Let’s deck the halls with boughs of holly and celebrate the best late-night television had to offer this week.

5. Tooning Out the News Holds Vigil for America’s Mayor

Not everyone is filled with the holiday spirit right now. Some people are filled with COVID-19 because they’ve been willfully and flagrantly ignoring the WHO social-distancing recommendations and calling the virus a hoax while trying to steal an election that’s very, very over. Yes, America’s mayor with the dripping hairline, Rudy Giuliani, is the latest of the president’s allies to contract COVID. The sharp satirists at Tooning Out the News hosted a vigil wishing Giuliani a speedy recovery so he could get back to trying to destroy the fabric of democracy as we know it. But first, the show interviewed actor and activist Kal Penn about why people are so hesitant to give Trump credit for creating a vaccine for a virus that he didn’t believe was real. After a quick pledge of allegiance to “Lord Beefiness” Trump, the main anchor calls his “Uncle Squirrel” to ask him to donate his organs to help Giuliani recover. I must say, the photo they chose for Uncle Squirrel made me laugh out loud, as did as the notion that — while Tooning Out the News is animated satire — there are very real people who continue to give their hard-earned money to Trump, Giuliani, and that ragtag team of Disney+ movie villains.

4. Jimmy Fallon and Andrew Rannells Recap the Year With Show Tunes

It’s no secret that I desperately miss musical theater, so much that I watched NBC’s two-hour commercial for Broadway of my own volition. As such, The Tonight Show’s eight-minute-long musical ode to 2020 starring Jimmy Fallon and Andrew Rannells was definitely right up my alley, but ultimately I had mixed feelings about it. To start, eight uninterrupted minutes of musical-theater-parody songs is a lot even for me. Also, I don’t really ever need to see Andrew Rannells (who I think is immensely talented) sing a parody version of “And I’m Telling You” from Dreamgirls, but I digress. Those qualms aside, it was kind of a bizarre trip down memory lane — memories of the past year and also of the musical-theater canon. Highlights include their renditions of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from Sound of Music, but about days of quarantine; “One” from A Chorus Line while wearing face shields; and “Memory” from Cats (sorry, Taylor) as an ode to Starbucks. Ultimately, I appreciate that it was a pretty big undertaking, and they pulled it off — even if there was way too much Book of Mormon included for my liking.

3. The Little Drummer Boy Becomes Big Guitar Man on The Late Late Show

While Fallon decided to use music to take a look at the year in the review, his musical late-night counterpart, James Corden, went the religious route on The Late Late Show this week with a sketch about the Little Drummer Boy. In front of a nativity scene and dressed in full Biblical garb complete with a staff and beard, Corden and his very special friend dove into a rendition of the classic yuletide carol. The gag: The Little Drummer Boy is sick of being pigeonholed as a drummer, is really into guitar now, and would prefer to be referred to as the Big Guitar Man. It was a solid bit that took the central conceit (the Little Drummer Boy is all grown up and he’s got his own identity thank you very much!) and ran with it in fun and interesting ways, even getting a good and unexpected “Carpool Karaoke” dig in there. Corden, who has been receiving a fair amount of flak for his campy performance as a gay character in Netflix’s The Prom, was affable and funny playing the (literal) straight man in the sketch opposite the moody teen Drummer Boy. Personally, I’d love to see more of Corden and the Big Guitar Man and less of Corden in The Prom going forward.

2. Dulcé Sloan Recaps a Year of Protests on The Daily Show

It’s the end of the year, so you know what that means: year-in-review lists! The Daily Show joined in on the lists fun by having their correspondents take a look back at the absolute bizarre, comically awful year we’ve had, from the music we’ve enjoyed to finding a way to simply forget 2020 ever happened (we would if we could). But the segment that stood out the most was Dulcé Sloan’s “The Year in Protests,” which took a look at all of the moments that made people take to the streets in a year when it was never more personally dangerous to do so. And, as Sloan noted, the protests really ran the gamut this year, “from Black Lives Matter, where people were fighting for their right to live, to the protests against lockdown and face masks, where people were fighting for their right to die.” Protests were such a big part of 2020 that, by the end of it, people were protesting things that didn’t actually occur, alternating between screams of “Stop the Count,” “Count the Votes,” and, as Sloan accurately put it, “Count some of all the votes and then stop the count.” Needless to say, protesting and protesters had a moment this year, and Sloan, with her perfectly symmetrical face, was the perfect guide to walk us through that often confusing journey.

1. Jeremy O. Harris Talks Federal Theatre Project on Late Night

If there’s one part of the late-night format that has suffered the most because of the pandemic, it’s the guest interviews. While watching late-night hosts chat over Zoom with guests has its moments (you get to peak into the guests’ homes; sometimes there are technical difficulties), it mostly just feels like you’re on another Zoom call for work. With virtual interviews, we lose the immediacy and intimacy of live, in-person guest interviews. But that’s not the case with Tony-nominated playwright, actor, and producer Jeremy O. Harris, who dropped by Late Night With Seth Meyers. Harris inherently understands theatricality and performance, which makes sense since he wrote Slave Play — which earned 12 Tony nominations and holds the record for most nominations for a single play ever. This was clear from the second he began the interview with Meyers. He got up and danced to no music to show off his amazing silver pants. He smoked a cigarette in his London flat to create an Edward Albee–on–Johnny Carson moment. He told Meyers he can’t believe his play is nominated for so many Tonys and that he’s waiting for someone to tell him that — and I quote — all the Tonys are going to David Mamet this year … We really loved that Breitbart interview he gave this year.” The man clearly has a way with words.

Harris also had a reason for being there beyond simple self-promotion. Later on in the interview, he spoke about a project inspired by his late grandfather, Golden Harris, called the Golden Collection, which is a collection of plays by Black playwrights that complicates what we consider to be canon. “People like Adrienne Kennedy, Alice Childress, Robert O’Hara are all apart of this collection, and we’re putting them in libraries across the country,” Harris said, describing the intention behind the project. To thank Meyers for “being scammed” into purchasing 20 tickets for theatergoers to see Slave Play last year, Harris donated a Golden Collection to Meyers’s alma mater in his name, which is honestly made me say “awwww” out loud. But Harris is too shrewd to not follow up his genuinely touching donation with an ask from Meyers, who has, in his words, “a veritable Illuminati list of followers,” Harris asked Meyers to tweet about the Federal Theatre Project, an FDR-era New Deal initiative to save theater that put artists back to work after the Great Depression and, in Harris’s opinion, needs to be part of Biden’s comeback plan. Harris’s request of Meyers was quite simple: “Go to your phone. Look at the DM I sent you, and retweet that. And literally tag every famous person you know and ask them to ask the same thing of Biden.” And you know what? Meyers did. This is how we save the arts, people: one tweet at a time. We’re getting a New Deal for Christmas, ya’ll.

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Jeremy O. Harris Scamming Seth Meyers Won Late Night