this week in late night

The CBS Head of Late Night’s Really Tall Chair Won Late Night This Week

It’s very tall! Photo: The Late Late Show with James Corden/YouTube

This was a momentous week in late night. Desus & Mero had their last show for a while, NBC announced that A Little Late With Lilly Singh is ending, and TBS revealed the air date of Conan O’Brien’s final late-night show on the network. O’Brien has been on terrestrial TV almost every night since 1993, and his upcoming move to HBO Max is part of a greater sea change. What is late night anymore? The genre is named after a time of day, yet thanks to YouTube, most people encounter its content completely divorced from linear time. Team Coco already leaned into that asynchronous model, uploading old clips at random times in the week, dropping podcasts into the main YouTube channel, and uploading the long-form celeb interviews right next to the shareable clips.

What will we lose if late night becomes completely untethered from time? When Peacock first launched, I watched one of the old Johnny Carson episodes they have available to stream. The first segment was a domino champion setting up an elaborate OK Go music video–esque domino setup. Carson seemed confused about why anyone would spend time on this, let alone why it was on his show. Then he interviewed Truman Capote, who described an unsolved murder at great length. It was surreal, like that scene in American Gods where the God of Media speaks to Shadow through the visage of Lucy Ricardo. Moments like that still occasionally occur on late night today, but they are rare. This week, Jimmy Fallon and Vince Vaughn discussed their childhood racetrack visits, and I got a little of that Why is this happening? spark. Late night needs to remain for those who are already half-dreaming. That’s why this week’s winning clip was the culmination of a weeklong surreal bit.

5. Yo-Yo Ma Vibes With Desus & Mero

Right before their big hiatus, the Bodega Boys pulled out all the stops. Earlier in the show, they vowed to watch Paddington 2. But if that wasn’t enough to endear them in the hearts of white America, they got an NPR luminary on the show. Desus and Mero went north to Cambridge Mass: home of Harvard, and thus the center of comedy. There they hung out with celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who is really leaning into his adorable grandpa years. Ma played the “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” in honor of the late DMX. He also heavily implied that he fucked his cello. Yo-Yo Ma is cool.

4. John Oliver Wants You to Consider Egg

John Oliver’s May 2 show discussed vaccine hesitancy, and why a giant cicada mascot is not the way to get the word out. Beyond subverting his usual third-act stunt structure, Oliver dropped one of the gnarliest JFK jokes I’ve ever heard, and put forward an interesting thought: What if you lived in an egg, surrounded by albumen and unaware of the larger world outside of the egg? Wouldn’t that be better? Consider egg. It’s safer in egg.

3. Andy Richter’s Big Huge Sports Yell

Conan may be ending, but there’s still plenty of time for weird bits. On May 3, Andy Richter did what he does worst: talk about sports. This segment of “Andy’s Sports Blast” managed to avoid “sportsball” feigned cluelessness by really amping up the yelling quotient. There were plenty of fake NBA draft names that would fit in the East/West College Bowl, plus Richter destroyed one of the cutout fans that has been populating the Largo Theater since Conan started filming there. Oops.

2. Richard Kind Believes in Ghosts?

Richard Kind is a hoot and a half in this May 3 interview with Seth Meyers. He not only described Blink-182 guitarist/alien enthusiast Tom DeLonge as “a rock ’n roller,” he called him “Thomas DeLonge.” Thomas! Kind also discussed the ghosts of Second City and delivered the sentence that will help you do a flawless Richard Kind impression: “I can’t, I’m doing a Commish.” Whisper it to yourself on cold days: “I can’t, I’m doing a Commish.” Pure poetry.

1. James Cordon Elevates His Boss

“This was a funny joke a few days ago.” So ended a bit that lasted all week on The Late Late Show. Senior VP of late-night programming Nick Bernstein joined the Corden stage for a week of shows to get roasted for his hair and put in increasingly high chairs. Every night this week, Bernstein’s chair onstage got higher, and every night they also pressured CBS to let them do a week of shows on a Carnival Cruise. It was a glorious showing of disrespect to corporate hierarchy, to tell your boss’s boss’s boss that he looks like a replacement Fran Lebowitz. Seeing the true fear in Bernstein’s face — both because he’s very high up and could fall, and because he’s having to say many words unvetted by a legal department — was a delight. This week had all the energy of kids trying to have class outside, and I loved it.

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An Ever-Higher Chair Won Late Night This Week