this week in late night

Atsuko Okatsuka’s Rejection of Adulthood Won Late Night This Week

Okatsuka on The Late Late Show. Photo: The Late Late Show with James Corden

Are you ready to hear about a climate conference that will change nothing? No? Too bad. The COP26 conference dominated the late-night monologues this week, with a little Kyrsten Sinema thrown in for spice. If you like bureaucratic deadlock, this was the topical comedy week for you. The problem with headlines this week is that with the accelerated pace of news, nothing really sparked big emotions. Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson feels rote, like they’re getting the relationship out of the way before the holidays. SpaceX astronauts had to use diapers, but it lacked the excitement of the first time we found out astronauts sometimes wear diapers. You know, that time with the attempted kidnapping and the Natalie Portman movie. That’s probably why the things that worked best this week were mostly just people vibing together. In-person interviews have again become the norm in late night, and the energy is great. Here’s who vibed hardest this week.

5. John Oliver Scolds the Housed

This was a particularly commendable episode of Last Week Tonight because it didn’t go for the clapter. The problem with much political humor is that, rhetorically, it doesn’t know what it’s doing. Is it trying to sway new folks to your way of thinking or a balm to those already on your side? The back half of this discussion of homelessness was decidedly the latter. John Oliver was specifically chiding allegedly liberal NIMBYs in deep-blue enclaves. The show is on Home Box Office, a service whose target demo is, judging by the name, housed. People who think they’re humanitarians until they’re cleaning up human shit need to be asked, “Okay, where would you like these people to shit?” If it made someone squirmy to be called out by HBO, so be it.

4. Please Green-light Hello Black Man

Returning guest Yvonne Orji was immediately at home in the fake bodega set of Desus & Mero. The Insecure star was practically a third host, and it ruled. The trio discussed Orji’s show’s final season, dating woes, and Orji’s idea for a show where she travels the world trying to date the Black men who inhabit each continent. Yes, even Antarctica! There is no amount of money I wouldn’t throw at this project, and the Boys should serve as co-EPs. Get on it, ViacomCBS! Paramount+ always needs new shows.

3. Joe Pera Talks to Seth Meyers

It’s always going to be a delight when Joe Pera does a late-night show. His vibe is so incompatible with the format. The big audience, the shiny floors, the grand spectacle of it. So when Pera says something like that he’s glad to be sitting in the same chair that Elizabeth Taylor must have once used (he’s not) with all apparent sincerity, it creates a beautiful tension between the in-studio audience (who is confused) and the comedy nerds (who are LOLing at home). Pera read from his new book and presented a pilot that Adult Swim passed on. Co-written with Dan Licata, the show would have been about a guy who has two cars and can never decide which one to drive. Oh, and he’s a Supreme Court justice, but the real drama is in the cars.

2. Fred Armisen and Jimmy Fallon Go Meta

An unprecedented event took place in this Tonight Show clip: Two comedians let a bit die its natural death. Fred Armisen and Jimmy Fallon did a little shtick at the top of this interview, pretending to rehearse their pat talk-show conversation. Something about Armisen shooting a movie in Greece, and then Fallon would do a Travolta impression, yadda yadda yadda. The bit could have gone on for Armisen’s whole couch time, but they let it end when it stopped being funny. The two men were listening to each other, riffing well, but then also listening to the audience and its interest in what they were doing. They got in, got out, and it wasn’t my problem anymore. Perfectly executed.

1. Atsuko Okatsuka’s Stand-up on The Late Late Show

“Comedians You Should and Will Know” class of 2018’s Atsuko Okatsuka had a perfect little self-contained set on The Late Late Show this week. Okatsuka’s set was based on two precepts: that she is essentially a child and that she did not ask to be born. These may be the two most relatable feelings, existentially, we’ve got going right now. Nobody feels adult enough to be doing all … this, and nobody chose to enter this reality. Okatsuka uses both these ideas to justify making out with a stranger’s dog, and that’s why she’s one of the best in the biz.

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Atsuko Okatsuka’s Stand-up Won Late Night This Week