Once again, a late-night host had to cancel shows because of COVID-19. On Thursday, The Late Show announced that Stephen Colbert tested positive and canceled Thursday’s show. This is the first time since March that a host has had to cancel: Desus Nice tested positive shortly after Desus & Mero came back for a new season that month. In January, it was a downright trend; Jimmy Fallon had a breakthrough case during The Tonight Show’s winter hiatus, Seth Meyers did shows from a bunker after he got it, and James Corden canceled shows that same week as a result of his breakthrough case. Andy Cohen got it twice.
Before The Late Show’s cancellation, this week in late night was dominated by the lifting of the mask mandate on flights. Jimmy Kimmel had the best material on it, creating a fake awards show for the best Karen/Kevin freak-outs captured mid-flight on cellphones. And, of course, everyone got their Spirit Airlines jokes in. Why always Spirit? There are other budget airlines. Frontier exists. Ryanair is arguably worse. At least Spirit doesn’t make people jockey for seats like those sadists at Southwest. But seemingly everyone takes shots at Spirit. Normally, dropping brand names in a monologue is dicey with the marketing department. Brands see it as either disparaging a sponsor or unfair, unpaid plugging. Does Spirit not advertise? Or did they send out some memo saying they’ll always be down to be the butt of a joke because all press is good press? Regardless, here’s what bits soared (plane pun) this week in late night.
5. Samantha Bee Calls Out the Ball Tanning
Full Frontal is still without an audience, which can make the show feel less energetic than its audience-laughter-filled brethren. But Samantha Bee’s got it where it counts: trenchant analysis. Bee got closer to the truth of Tucker Carlson’s ball-tanning nonsense than any of the other late-night hosts, pointing out the long “masculinity in crisis” propaganda campaign waged by the far right for years now. This call for manly men has been a fascist talking point since at least Mussolini. “We need big, manly men to protect the state from foreigners, who we code as femme predators” worked for Benito, and as Bee points out, it worked for Trump too.
4. Tina Fey Dodges COVID
Tina Fey got to tell a really long story about her weirdest week of 2021. Guesting on Saturday Night Live when everyone had COVID, having a hypochondriac moment on the set of Only Murders in the Building, and refusing adamantly to even attempt a rap with Freestyle Love Supreme. SNL goss is always welcome, so it was interesting to hear Fey describe 30 Rock as a borderline ghost town the week Paul Rudd hosted. The ease Fey and Seth Meyers have pulls you in. You are a guest at their dinner party, and Fey is making you only a little uncomfortable by talking so much about COVID. Hey, we all do it.
3. Jay Jurden’s Gun Show
In a bold fit, Jay Jurden charmed the audience of The Late Late Show. Jurden riffed on old people’s love of Joe Biden, coming out in the South, and his mother’s constructive criticism on that coming out. His style was convivial, more someone being charming while smoking outside a comedy show than telling traditional setup–punch line jokes inside the show. Jurden writes for The Problem With Jon Stewart, and it would be nice to see him get more time to flex that “Are we flirting, are we fighting?” vibe beyond the BTS footage that show posts to YouTube.
2. Emmy Blotnick’s Late Show Victory Lap
Emmy Blotnick used to write on The Late Show, so this stand-up set had the vibe of a hometown hero coming back for a victory lap. Blotnick’s set was lovely, keenly observed, and ended with the dumbest punch line I’ve heard all year. I won’t spoil it — just let the silly-sounding words wash over you like waves on the sand.
1. Nicolas Cage Returns to Late Night
Nicolas Cage hasn’t done a talk show in 14 years, so of course this is going to win this week’s roundup. The man, the myth, the legend stopped by Jimmy Kimmel Live to quash and confirm several rumors that have popped up about him. Did he move to Las Vegas for the tax break? Yes. Did he own a two-headed snake? Yup. Did he buy a bat-infested cave? Nah. Did he do The Late Late Show immediately after doing Kimmel, thus kind of diminishing the grand return? Also yes. But Kimmel got him first! Cage came out in the shiniest suit anyone has ever seen, explaining that he wanted to look like “brushed aluminum on a dashboard of an old Cadillac,” and hey, he nailed it.
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