this week in late night

Quinta Brunson’s 6th-Grade Teacher Won Late Night This Week

Quinta Brunson and Jimmy Kimmel talk with Ms. Abbott. Photo: Jimmy Kimmel Live/YouTube

It was a dong-heavy week in late night. Sebastian Stan gifted his metal balls from Pam and Tommy to Jimmy Kimmel, Johnny Knoxville discussed getting slammed in the nuts at the Royal Rumble on The Late Late Show, and what are the rising tensions in Ukraine if not a global dick-measuring contest? It’s a very real threat of World War III, is what it is.

Much like Ukraine itself, late night tried to remain blasé in the face of big ol’ conflict. Keeping things light was the order of the week, with the most pomp being afforded to David Letterman’s 40th-anniversary appearance on Late Night. Letterman lost his dang mind upon finding out that Seth Meyers doesn’t have an “animal guy.” That’s how much things have changed in the 40 years since Late Night became a show. The number of times I’ve seen a live animal (beyond the puppies regularly employed by Stephen Colbert) on a late-night show is shockingly small. Since Letterman’s show’s debut, late night has gotten more political, less showbiz-y. Whether you think that’s a good development depends on what you think late night’s purpose should be. Here are the clips that most fulfilled their purpose this week.

5. Trevor Noah Interviews Barbara Lee

Bringing Barbara Lee on The Daily Show this week was an inherently political act. The week has been full of geopolitical saber-rattling, and Barbara Lee is America’s best-known saber-quieter. She is the only member of Congress who voted against the authorization of force that made room for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and she is still working to repeal that authorization 20-odd years later. Where everyone else was content to do Russian-accent work when discussing Ukraine (and TBH, Trevor Noah did that too), Noah made space for a voice of dissent. A voice of “simmer down now” — that’s the legacy of The Daily Show.

4. Stephen Colbert’s Upbeat Cover of “What’s Going On”

This was just a silly, goofy song imagining a world where Marvin Gaye can’t sing about oppression. Okay, yes, that is the world that anti-critical-race-theory pundits want, and thus this cute little song sung by Late Show house-band member Louis Fouché was something of a downer. But at its heart, it was a dumb filk, Weird Al style. More room for song parodies; less room for anything else.

3. Jenny Hagel Opens a Pickle Jar

David Letterman said that if he’d had “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell” as a desk-piece format, he’d still be on the air somewhere. One: Letterman is still on the air, just ask Netflix. Two: If he’d hired more diversely, this bit could have been his. Three: Seth Meyers is the guy for this piece because he is one of the best space-givers in late night. While still very much holding his own comedically, Meyers makes so much room for his writers to shine. That’s why Amber Ruffin has a show (and why do I have to wait until the Olympics is over to get more of it?) and why Jenny Hagel can show off her wrist strength opening a pickle jar. Play to your strengths and make room for the strengths of others — that is the great lesson of Meyers’s tenure on Late Night.

2. Jenny Slate Is Adorable on Fallon

Sometimes you just need an effervescent gorgeous gorgeous guest, and Jenny Slate is one such guest. Slate appeared on The Tonight Show to plug her new rom-com, and her appearance was just fucking adorable. There are no other words. She recycled bits she has been trying on her baby, she talked about her COVID wedding (a classic anecdote in the current late-night ecosphere), and was an all-round perfectly charming late-night guest.

1. Ms. Abbott Catches Up With a Student

Jimmy Kimmel loves to surprise a guest with a special someone. He has sprung randos on Denzel Washington, Adam Scott, and George Clooney. It has become a staple of his tenure on the show, which is the longest-running of any current host’s. But some surprises hit harder than others, and Quinta Brunson’s getting surprised with the teacher she named Abbott Elementary after was a big, big hit. Brunson got farklempt, Ms. Abbott got a paid vacation, and we all got to see what a network budget can do to bring topicality and grandeur to a pop-culture moment. This is the point of late night in a digital world: to give people their flowers at the exact moment that they are newsworthy.

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Quinta Brunson’s 6th Grade Teacher Won Late Night This Week