this week in late night

Amber Ruffin’s Schadenfreude Won Late Night This Week

Photo: The Amber Ruffin Show

Tuesday was the first official day of summer, so of course the late-night hosts are going on break. Jimmy Kimmel had his first guest, Sean Hayes, host his extended summer hols. Desus & Mero are going on summer hiatus, and Ziwe wrapped earlier in the month. But one host keeps chugging along, despite getting COVID. Samantha Bee filed a plea to fight for abortions in the rain, since she couldn’t be in a studio without putting her crew at risk.

It was a week of things teetering on the verge, a week of sartorial whoopsies. Jenny Slate almost lost her dress on a JetBlue flight, Aisling Bea did lose her dress on her flight, and John Mulaney begged Seth Meyers to wear a suit. But he’d better not. Seth’s cozy sweaters give the proper disregard for the second-string late-night show on a network. If he starts dressing like a hedge-fund guy at a murder-mystery party again, I’ll burn 30 Rock to the ground! Anyhoo, here’s what was funny in late-night TV this week.

5. Werner Herzog Tells a Knock-Knock Joke

Werner Herzog started his appearance on The Late Show by saying that every action we take around other people has a layer of performance to it. We are always performing a role of ourselves to other people, which I think some people would find depressingly inauthentic. But we perform for each other because we want to communicate specific thoughts and feelings. The performance is an act of love, because it means we want the audience to understand something that otherwise would exist only in our heads. I think Herzog would agree with me, since he agreed to goof on his persona and tell knock-knock jokes in his perfectly unique (and performative) voice.

4. Jenny Slate Talks to Tom Cruise

Jenny Slate is a perfect, bubbly talk-show guest. She’s game, she’s got anecdotes for days (She shared different travel snafu stories on Seth Meyers and Kimmel this week — learn from this, Adam Sandler), and the fits are cuuuuute. She was down to do bits in this Late Night clip, reading from Meyers’s children’s book in her Marcel voice and taping a personal plea for Tom Cruise to see her movie. He’s definitely gonna do it, especially since she got The Client and The Firm confused while doing it.

3. The Minions Play Hardball

Nate Fernald’s bits on The Late Late Show are reliably weird, like the time he played a stand-up comic who’d had an existential crisis during the pandemic but was planning on just ignoring it and soldiering on. In this desk piece, Fernald played a movie critic whose wife had been kidnapped by the Minions, and unless he panned every other movie in theaters, it was curtains for her. The punny pans were a hoot, but the menace of Minions needs to be addressed. There’s this one that looms over the 101 highway in Los Angeles, and he has done psychic damage to everyone who travels to and from the Valley. The 101 Minion’s presence weighs on every Los Angeles resident, like Manson before he was caught. You just know he’s out there, waiting.

2. Aisling Bea Rocks a Bathrobe

Apparently guests of Jimmy Kimmel Live! stay in L.A. courtesy of the Sunset Marquis hotel, because that’s what was written on Aisling Bea’s bathrobe. Air travel has become such a crapshoot that talk-show guests are being denied their gowns. It’s a shame. Bea was a whip-smart talk-show guest, plugging her Hulu show with aplomb while still riffing well with guest host Sean Hayes. British talk-show guests are on another level, because they’ve trained under the panel-show system. It’s like if short-form improv was good.

1. Amber Ruffin and El DeBarge Laugh at the Capitol Rioters’ Pain

I mean, this is what it’s all about nowadays, right? Short of actual structural change, the most we can hope for is a schadenfreude-style joy at the occasional awful person facing consequences for their awful actions. Plus, El DeBarge is here! Amber Ruffin uses her show to meet her heroes and sing silly songs. This silly song manages to do both, while also giving voice to our wounded sense of justice. Watching The Amber Ruffin Show, you get the sense that she’s doing this just for her. The studio could be empty, the cameras could be off, and she’d still be singing these songs. Like Herzog said, it’s a performance. But it’s an authentic one.

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Amber Ruffin’s Schadenfreude Won Late Night This Week