this week in late night

Late Night Came Together to Gesture Toward Combating Climate Change This Week

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by The Late Late Show with James Corden/YouTube

All the various Jimmys and Daily Show expats of late night came together this week to address the climate crisis. It was an unprecedented showing of cross-corporate concern. Well, not totally unprecedented. The last time something like this happened was when Ron Burgundy guested on Conan, The Late Show, The Late Late Show, The Tonight Show, Late Night, and Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2019 to announce his podcast. This collaboration saw cooperation from Jimmy Kimmel Live!The Late Show, The Late Late Show, The Tonight Show, Late Night, WWHL, The Daily Show, and Full Frontal — though, as Sam Bee pointed out, Gutfeld! wasn’t asked to participate, and he was salty about it.

So we know what it takes for these guys to play nice: either the threat of complete ecological collapse, or Will Ferrell wanting to do a bit.

Truth be told, the hypercompetitive late-night wars of the ’90s are long over. Guests frequently do multiple shows in one week, something that was completely verboten in the Letterman-Leno wars. But Climate Night was still different. The hosts are chummier now more than ever, but the corporations that host them fight over an ever-decreasing pie. What got them to cooperate?

One of the most enduring sounds on my TikTok FYP is a song native to the app by Jacob Sigman. It goes, “Why you working so hard? / The world is ending / Yay! It’s the apocalypse / Take the day off / It’s all meaningless!” I get like three of these guys a day, and I have since Labor Day. The part of me that is somehow cynical and optimistic thinks that corporations are starting to figure out that workers aren’t so productive when their house is underwater, and they can’t sell shit to dead people. Hence, Climate Night.

I appreciated the anger that bubbled through Jimmy Kimmel’s climate monologue. Like his advocacy for more equitable health care, Kimmel has a knack for making it personal. His monologue had a really mean fake ad for oil companies, as well as pleas for specific actions for his audience to take. Kimmel also called out Biden for all the pro-oil work of his administration.

It was also nice hearing Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah call companies that pollute “polluting companies” or “polluters.” It harkens back to a late-’80s model of environmentalism where big business was represented by the villainous CEOs of Captain Planet, who make factories whose sole product is toxic sludge or whatever. This small language tweak could help solidify the reps of Big Oil companies until it’s as unsavory to work for them as it is to work for LuLaRoe or in the big-cat trade.

Some of the comedy focused too much on personal actions. Reggie Watts getting The Late Late Show on canned water and Meyers buying a bidet is nice, but it’s one H20 molecule in one drop in the bucket. Personal action feels good, but even the shows that highlighted it acknowledged that it’s not the most useful thing to focus on. At this point, any time not spent either (1) sharing hopeful information about how it’s not too late or (2) rallying people behind specific actions is time wasted.

It’s easy to dunk on a one-night focus on climate from late-night comedy. We still don’t know what effect (if any) political humor really has on political change. But since we know now for certain that corporate and government action matter several orders of magnitude more than any personal efforts to reduce one’s own carbon footprint, we need mass mobilization to get anything done. Political will needs to be gathered and directed with purpose. If these monologues inspired people to cyberbully their reps in Congress, Climate Night will have been a success.

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Late-Night Comedy United for Climate Change This Week