this week in late night

John Oliver’s Kitchen-Sink Car Commercial Won Late Night This Week

John Oliver Photo: HBO

This week outside of late night, comedy was in crisis. Dave Chappelle’s “team TERF” comments inspired a walkout at Netflix and what felt like a tripling down by co-CEO Ted Sarandos. In his first missive on the subject, he wrote, “Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.” The remarks implied that the art of stand-up is, if not always hurtful, always targeted. In comedy, there is often talk of punching up or punching down; shit only works if you are directing truth bombs at someone or something. At the same time, a tension exists between the “Comedians are intrepid truth-tellers” camp and “We’re just doing some silly goof-’em-ups, don’t take it too seriously” contingent. Can comedians have it both ways? Sure, why not? Some jokes are fucking mean, some jokes are dumb and harm no one. Some “jokes” are veiled hate speech, and some are puns. If there is a joke that is both hate speech and a pun, I am very curious to hear it. But my curiosity often gets in the way of my well-being, so … probably don’t DM it to me.

This is not to say that even the most anodyne jokes are apolitical. Even a lack of agenda is a tacit agenda. Silence is speech, in its way, and in entertainment, who you want to please is as political as whose nose you want to tweak. This week’s late-night offerings went all over the place on the spectrum of mean-spiritedness.

5. Desus & Mero Dip Their Balls in the Discourse

Deus & Mero came back from hiatus this week and immediately got into some apolitical but secretly political territory: sports. They celebrated the Knicks’ first win on Thursday and called writer Josh Gondelman’s comically oversize Celtics jersey a hate crime. But things really got heated when they discussed the new non-invasive birth control for men. COSO is an ultrasound device that blasts one’s balls to temporary sterility, it appears. It would be nice if we could find a temporary, non-barrier method means of birth control for the fellas, but Desus and Mero did some very convincing mime work to show where the COSO falls flat. How is one supposed to get one’s balls in this sound bath? How should one hover as the three-minute sperm obliteration process takes place? You are tea-bagging a Bose speaker, there has got to be a better way.

4. Jon Stewart Acknowledges the Limits of Comedy

The biweekly nature of The Problem With Jon Stewart means that the show is kinda sorta ineligible for the weekly power ranking half the time. But the slow release of behind-the-scenes content (1) makes it eligible and (2) further erodes the concept of what “late night” even means. We are no longer tethered by the Man’s conception of time! Anyway, this documentary clip of the Problem writers’ room shows Stewart regaling his younger staff with tales of Dave Attell playing Hitler on Stewart’s first syndicated talk show. All comedians need to learn the difference between ideas that stay in the writers’ room and ideas that are actually presented to audiences. Stewart learned it right around the point that Attell-as-Hitler said he had a clip and put on footage of the Nuremberg trials. You can say whatever you want. The problem is that people are going to hear it.

3. Franzia Takes a Victory Lap on Late Night

The supply chain is still fucked, which apparently means bottled wine is going to nope out of existence for a while. It’s boxed wine’s time to shine, baby! Brian Stack put on his fanciest semi-British accent to play Mr. Franzia, who is going to gloat over his moment for as long as it lasts. As someone who yells about society having evolved beyond the need for wine corks on a near monthly basis, this slobs-beating-snobs story did it for me.

2. The Late Late Show Brings the Tubular Bells

Often The Late Late Show is best before it even gets to the prepared material. This happened this week, when James Corden made his audience wait patiently for the beat to drop on the 25-minute-long song “Tubular Bells.” Corden had demanded something “Tubular Bells”-like from keyboardist Steve Scalfati, and no one knew what that meant. So he put his phone up to his lapel mic and played it on speaker. For what felt like years. Scalfati eventually delivered the tubular goods, and then there were jokes. But I was already vibing so hard they didn’t matter.

1. Last Week Tonight Pens Its Magnum Opus

True art comes from collaboration, as this off-week digital exclusive from Last Week Tonight shows. A few weeks back, the show pointed out multiple car commercials featuring a dealer in a pickle costume. This dealer would invariably say a doctor had advised him to chill out or he’d die. Apparently, someone is writing model car commercials the way conservative think tanks write model anti-choice legislation. Well, John Oliver can fix one of those! The show wrote one bespoke, achingly real car commercial to be used by one dealership, and the folks at Zumbrota Ford took up the challenge. This commercial is a thing of beauty, the story of a marriage dissolving because a big Mack truck was too much for a little garage. Just start engraving the Emmy now.

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John Oliver’s Car Commercial Won Late Night This Week