Good old late night talk shows are an undeniable classic in television, known for their charming sets, comical monologues, and the entertaining interactions between the host and famous celebrities. For the past 60 years, late night talk shows (from now on going to be addressed as just “late night”) have seen many iconic names grace the stage and take the seat behind the iconic wooden desk from Johnny Carson, to David Letterman, and a personal favorite of mine, Conan O’Brien. This show format has been a staple in western countries (mainly the United States), and I do embarrassingly admit that I had quite the soft spot for it.
I used to be quite an admirer of late night TV. I enjoyed watching all the different hosts doing all their different shows while bringing in their own “unique” style to it. Well, at least I used to. For the past few years, I personally think that late night has been in a decline, specifically in terms of comedic value. The jokes and antics that have once drawn me into the late night train have become stale, boring, repetitive, and sometimes just plain obnoxious, which has to a great degree “ruined” it for me.
While I definitely think that there are a lot of factors that go into the issue, I will be talking about the main reason why I personally think late night is in decline.
Politics, politics, politics. Now I have nothing against political jokes. I actually think that satire every now and then is a good thing since it serves as a very effective way of coping by making light of very serious and controversial issues. However, politics isn’t an “every now and then” thing in late night today. It’s present frequently, too frequently I would say. Beyond it being frequent, it is also incredibly one-sided, repetitive, and down right ugly.
Now it hasn’t always been like this. Though political jokes in late night isn’t anything new, the degree to which these shows have been saturated with politics within the past few years has been absurd. Gone are the days where most late night hosts were equal opportunists when it came to making political jokes. I like to take the example of my personal favorite host, Conan O’Brien, who has adopted the “equal opportunity” philosophy when it comes to comedy. He did make political jokes here and there, but he made sure to poke fun and throw jabs at both sides of the political aisle since they did not want to leave out nearly half of their audience. While I obviously haven’t caught other late night legends such as David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Johnny Carson live, from what I can tell from the clips on YouTube, they had the same philosophy. It stayed that way for quite a long time until the year 2016, the year Donald Trump was elected as the U.S. President. Ever since then, late night had gone into a decline it would not look back from.
Mainstream late night has basically turned into a political echo chamber, frequently painting caricatures of the politicians (and on occasion, their constituents as well) of the opposing political aisle and “ripping” them apart which comes across as condescending. In the case of today, it has always been the same “Republicans suck” line over and over again, echoed again and again by the biggest names in late night. I cannot tell you exactly how many times I’ve wanted to pull all my hair out, smash my bedroom window, and jump out after hearing Jimmy Kimmel make an “orange man bad” joke for the millionth time on his show. In my opinion, the main goal for their jokes in a lot of cases have not really been to make their audience laugh, but more so to make them cheer on the same talking points over and over again.
This criticism has nothing to do with my political views and leaning. I just find it to be incredibly annoying and sad that late night has just degenerated into telling the same uncreative, subpar jokes constantly which leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Based on how late night trends are going, I wouldn't say that the future of late night looks bright. The times have changed; these types of shows are no longer exclusively found on cable networks. Thanks to the rise of the internet, late night content has become readily available to anyone who has access to a device with internet access. In this digital day and age where attention spans are steadily decreasing, releasing short-form videos designed to go viral and trend on social media platforms such as YouTube is the name of the game. This has played a part in influencing these networks in trying to actively put out political content since these types of videos often garner a lot of views.
Of course, all of this is just my opinion; what one finds funny and or entertaining is entirely subjective, but for me personally, I can’t help but feel a little bitter and contemptuous towards the awful state I think the late night format is in. I too am not that optimistic about its future. Seeing how politicized the entertainment industry has become, I don’t expect it to get any better soon, but who knows? There is still a possibility that it might, or maybe, it really is time to move on from it and let go.