Late night talk shows, much like the rest of the world, has been forced to adapt to the rapid changes brought about by the pandemic. While we all quarantine safely at home, these raconteurs are keeping us entertained and informed.
Culturally speaking, late night talk shows aren’t a deeply embedded imprint in the Philippines as say its thriving counterparts seated squarely from behind a desk and a drawn up diorama of a backdrop of their city skyline. There have been attempts in the past, most significantly by Jojo A’s The Medyo Late Night Show, Martin Nievera’s Martin Late At Nite, and of course, the irrepressible Johnny Litton with the long-running, Oh No! It’s Johnny! And then there’s the tragic, bumbling attempt as of late, one that shouldn’t function as one, but ultimately airs well into the wee hours of the early morning instead of the supposedly stately and prompt address to the nation that it intends to be. The typically incoherent mess we typically have to decipher the next morning aside, legitimate late night talk shows fundamentally serve a unique function in the decorated mantel of entertainment, which is to distill current events and decode them for the post-news viewer, all while keeping a firm pulse on the paradigms that constantly shift generations.
Late night talk shows, even from across the pond, are a veritable pop culture zeitgeist, educating, as well as engaging audiences whether it be on television or from the convenience of smartphone screen. From comedy or sarcasm-laced monologues detailing slices of life to one-on-one interviews with celebrities peddling everything from movie premieres, new seasons of shows, or music releases, this specific facet of television has become that beacon of sense that has kept us up way, way after the bedtime we promised ourselves.
However, as the world continuous to face the assiduous pandemic that has not only incapacitated everything from formidable economies to impenetrable industries, it has also pilfered the joy from life in general. Even with our best attempts to endure and persist during such trying times in different capacities, it can get incredibly dismal and depressing that every bit of staving off helps deflate the disheartening news that stack up on every permissible update. In an ideal situation, this wouldn’t be so much as an issue, what with so many avenues of distraction made available by the modern times. However, challenged by necessary measures to curb the curve of COVID-19, almost every signifier of a life we once knew, aside from the essential sectors, was and still is compelled to stay at home in forms of self-isolation, social distancing, and community quarantine. In this vein, offices have had to relent to work suspensions, productions have either stopped or shifted completely to more necessary needs, and for the entertaining lot, lights have been shut off.
In the realm of late night talk shows, the bands have stopped drumming up a punch line, the audience is nowhere to be found, and the mainstays have left their well-appointed studios, all in deference to the global mandate to quarantine, at least for the foreseeable future. But at a most volatile, vulnerable, and vital point of contemporary history, there are stories that need to be told, even if just for at most half an hour, to provide laughs for an audience that desperately deserves any form of relief. Instead of giving in to the swell of silence and white noise, shows such as Conan, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Late Show With James Corden, Late Night With Seth Meyers, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and The Daily Show With Trevor Noah have all pivoted to broadcasting their show albeit with significant changes. Well, you know what they say in the ‘biz, the show must go on—even at home.
“I miss the laughter, I miss the joy that I bring others,” answers Conan O’Brien in response to Stephen Colbert checking up on him in isolation. It is still a one-on-one, face-to-face interview, but this time it is physically split on screen, with the exchange hosted through a video call. Gone is the elaborate, tightly wound production that operates like clockwork. Instead, we are watching our favorite late night hosts, up close and personal from the comforts of their enviable and cushy homes. Well, perhaps a little too close to the face for comfort, but isn’t that the deal these days with our social schedules replaced by Zoom sessions with friends and family?
“Well what about your show, do you miss that?” jabs Stephen Colbert, forcing their exchange to erupt in a hearty fit of laughter. It is different, yes, but it also feels oddly familiar. Stripped to the bare bones, with iPads, built-in microphones, and natural light from the available room in their house, we are left with the essence of the format: the conversation. This time, it is like we are eavesdropping on friends in quarantine catching and checking up on each other.
“We’re in a weird space,” asserts Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show or temporarily, The Daily Social Distancing Show. “It feels like the end of the world, and it’s not, but we also cannot treat it like nothing is happening. So we do have to find that balance.” Striking this equilibrium in the entertainment spectrum not only means talking and pulling an insight about it, but also fashioning an exhale in a highly uncertain period of our lives. “Obviously we’re dealing with a different degree of dire right now,” Seth Meyers explains. “But I want to make sure that we don’t forget how dire things were before this. It’s on [our show] to process what’s happening in the news, which is often upsetting. The way we process, the way that is cathartic to us—and hopefully to an audience—is to add jokes to it. Sadly, I think we’re pretty well versed in the art of throwing a comedy sheen over current events.”
“I’m trying to inform my audience. I’m trying to stay informed. I still don’t believe anybody should be watching the news 24 hours a day because the truth is news has to tell you news, so they’re gonna try to find bad things to tell you for 24 hours to make this thing continue,” details Trevor Noah in his video conference call with Jimmy Fallon. “I don’t think it’s healthy so I go, ‘Hey, I know a lot of people watch my show because they just want to catch up on essential news and then they want to carry on living their lives.’ And I’m honored that people would have me provide that, so that’s what I do.” This precisely is what motivated them to find a way to find productivity from within the bounds of staying at home. So, it’s like their version of working from home, except that unlike us, they have an audience peering through the proverbial looking glass. “For us, these shows have been about the presenting idea that we’re all going through this together,” says Gavin Purcell, Executive Producer for The Tonight Show in an interview with The New York Times. “People are adjusting to working from home, and what is it like to be stuck there? People have let Jimmy into their homes forever, and he thought it might be cool to let them into his home.” More than that, these late night hosts are now accorded the opportunity to broaden their reach online, which they have been trying to work on side-by-side their legacy-building shows. Conversely, they are now able to fully optimize the platform by raising funds for various charities and organizations that are in need during this catastrophic crisis on a nightly basis.
There lies a challenge, however, which goes beyond the sudden symphony of a piano piece interrupting Conan O’Brien’s train of thought, or Seth Meyer’s wife bringing him food in his makeshift studio in the attic, or Jimmy Fallon’s children filling up their dad’s screen in this new normal. “I never really knew what loneliness was until I started telling jokes to an empty room,” Jimmy Kimmel expresses in his quarantine monologue. A necessary compromise in the pandemic, yes, but following various timelines in about a month, these hosts have seemingly acclimated to this temporary set-up. James Corden has taken us to his garage, Seth Meyers has since transferred from the hallway, Stephen Colbert is now planted in the study of his home, Jimmy Fallon now slides to work in his basement, and Jimmy Kimmel has taken us on a tour around his house, all while collectively delivering the goods: the news, the jokes, the performances, and even the games. Sure, it is a little low quality, but there lies this newfound charm to the late night talk show. They may been shaken to their core, much like the rest of the world, but just as we have in the face of adversity, they have, in more ways than one, found their way home.
No stranger to being tested in the late night talk show game, with the infamous Jay Leno and The Tonight Show debacle of 2010, the indefatigable raconteur has since dusted himself off with a critically acclaimed and successful turn at the desk in TBS. His signature wry and self-deprecating humor lends itself well to #ConanAtHome, where he has had the likes of Tracy Morgan, Kevin Bacon, and Stephen Colbert on the broadcast.
Enlisting the big, flashy names to The Tonight Show: At Home Edition, Jimmy Fallon has welcomed everyone from Tina Fey, Kim Kardashian, and Lady Gaga on a virtual tête-à-tête. Giving us performances from Lin Manuel Miranda, Marcus Mumford, and One Republic, plus the comedic stylings of Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, and Kristen Wiig, the show scene-stealers and breakout stars would have to be his daughters Frances and Winnie, who even lost a tooth while talking to Ciara and Russell Wilson.
One of the first to hop on the remote production of late night show episodes, Jimmy Kimmel has fashioned his spiels and shticks to Quarantine Minilogues, a daily detail of his illuminating experience in isolation. Featuring a most adorable take on the show’s OBB and theme song by his daughter, Jane, it is a family affair for this undertaking, as his wife, co-head writer and producer of Jimmy Kimmel Live now also functions as prop master, camera and lighting person, and perpetrator of #FormalFriday. Over the course of the show, Jimmy Kimmel has checked in on his buddy Guillermo, Courtney Cox, the cast of Modern Family, and apparent Democratic Presidential Nominee, Joe Biden.
Celebrating his fifth year in the late night talk show game, James Corden has been compelled to rethink his original plans, and instead, kicked of #HomeFest from his garage. With video calls and performances from Dua Lipa and friends, John Legend, David Blaine, and the cumulative cast of Dear Evan Hansen in a gut-wrenching rendition of You Will Be Found, this looks like it will be a fun ride. Don’t get your hopes up though, because sorry, Carpool Karaoke will remain parked in the meantime.
Reading from a janky teleprompter app to load his script and being playfully critiqued by Martha Stewart on the furnishings of his attic studio, Seth Meyers is bringing his signature brand of satire and sass home. Taking an even closer look at politics and swirling it with the personal, the late night talk show host has breathed new life to his brand of entertainment. While he is new to the work-from-home set-up, the host has found a great kick from constructive criticisms online telling him what equipment to purchase and how to do Zoom calls better. The results are enlightening conversations with Amy Poehler, Jane Fonda, and US Senator Bernie Sanders.
We are calling it, Stephen Colbert rub-a-dub-dubbin’ in a tub wearing a suit is all sorts hilarious and iconic. With an iPad propped up and AirPods secure on his ears, The Late Show host has since dried up to his study where he has dialogued with Matthew McConaughey, Chance The Rapper, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He also features a segment called Tooning The News, where news segments are stretched to animated imaginations to truly laugh out loud-inducing results.
While the spiffy suit is gone in place for more comfortable and quarantine-appropriate hoodies, Trevor Noah of what is for the meantime called The Daily Social Distancing Show has continued on with his trademark satire and public service. With the likes of Jennifer Garner, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri, and even his own grandmother called up for the show on video calls, it was the sterling piece of journalism he delivered interviewing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “One thing I didn’t want to do was have Dr. Fauci’s interview be politicized in any way,” Noah said of the undertaking, which was replete of comedic zings, and instead was straightforward and informative, as it was supposed to be. “I was being as selfish as I was being benevolent—it was truly one of those instances where I’m asking the questions that I myself have as a human being.”
And to which we from this side of the world can only wistfully say, hopefully all.