this week in late night

Hating on the Democrats Won Late Night This Week

Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel on Late Night. Photo: Late Night with Seth Meyers/YouTube

Abortion rights — we talked about ’em! What a week for Full Frontal to be on hiatus. All the late-night shows touched on the leaked opinion draft to various extents. Trevor Noah’s interview with Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson was probably the best I felt all week. Noah asked hard questions about how the movement needs to organize going forward, and Johnson did a lot to focus her words on an optimistic future, not our shitty present.

The problem with the Daily Show–inspired, in-depth takedowns of Republican jerkwads is how much Republican jerkwad content you have to include for context. All the essay-type monologues — Stephen Colbert, Last Week Tonight, Seth Meyers’s “A Closer Look,” Full Frontal — involve a lot of noxious sound bites. How can you properly dunk on people if you don’t let them set it up for you on tape? But this means someone who watches a lot of late night winds up watching a lot of awful people saying heinous shit. Sure, it’s in service of making a joke or a larger point, but it’s still more exposure than is perhaps healthy. One function of political humor is to function as a pressure-release valve, a way to feel better about all the bad shit. But these clips of Susan Collins’s smug little face only raised my blood pressure. Here’s what actually worked to relieve stress on this no good, very bad week.

5. Stephen Colbert Does Weird Food Science

Alton Brown knows good TV, or at least maximalist TV. Stephen Colbert was very much playing catch-up with Brown on Monday’s The Late Show, bewilderedly stumbling through hot-sauce options and heat guns. There was even one of those boat steering wheels. What are those called? Muppet Treasure Island would lead you to believe it’s called the helm, but that’s the whole setup, not just the wheel. Anyway, choking down hot sauce is always funny. Brown was right to reclaim that space from Hot Ones.

4. Vanessa Bayer Is Having a Great Summer

Vanessa Bayer has been on a promo cycle for I Love That for You, and only Andy Cohen had the good sense to force her into extemporaneous sketch comedy. She reenacted Summer House and the delusional antics of Lindsay Hubbard. She’s just loves life, and loves love! No one’s in denial! This is the best summer ever!

3. James Corden Learns About Fried Butter

The push and pull between James Corden and his staff will be greatly missed when he goes back to Broadway or England or that giant alley from Cats next year. This monologue has it all: some fun chat with Big Boss Nick Bernstein, a brief chiming-in from Reggie Watts, and some sass from Winnie. Apparently she thinks James Corden is too bougie to go to a county fair. If the show knows what’s best, the two of them will go to the L.A. County Fair together like Corden and Ian Karmel did last summer with Six Flags. Everyone loves a field trip! Plus, they actually utilized the bar set at the end. Benedict Cumberbatch seems to be giving no fucks during this press tour. Hearing him yell “Cinco de Mayo!” is deeply unsettling. Speaking of no-fucks Cumberbatch …

2. Mike Birbiglia Fills In

Yet another late-night host got COVID, and Mike Birbiglia got bumped up from guest to guest host as a result. Birbigs introduced himself to the larger ABC viewing audience, including a supercut of every newscaster who mispronounced his name. The man has made multiple movies, guys — keep up! This monologue was fun and solid for having so little prep time. Kimmel and his wife’s complete indifference to having COVID is as good an ad for getting vaxxed as you’re gonna get. And there was even a fun interview segment for Guillermo. I’ve never seen Benedict Cumberbatch so chill. Is he growing on me? What’s happening? Maybe he’s fully declenched now that he has an Oscar.

1. Seth Meyers Scolds the Democratic Party

The best abortion comedy this week didn’t use any sound bites, but it did have a lot of yelling. Seth Meyers, Amber Ruffin, and Jenny Hagel got to scream as loud as we wanted to this week in this sketch about the complete inefficacy of our government. Did it suggest any solutions, like Trevor Noah’s interview? It did not. But did it express the level of rage and abandonment we’re feeling right now, without having to use a triggering video of Mitch McConnell? Totes.

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Hating on the Democrats Won Late Night This Week