Here we are live after the final presidential debate -- or “live” about 12 hours after the final presidential debate -- with a last parting look at late night TV’s dismemberment of the debate proceedings. Three major shows were “live” Wednesday night: “Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and -- in a novel twist when taking into consideration the show’s title -- “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Each took a slightly different approach, each had pre-canned material and each was good.
Above all, each one again established that you can’t make up this stuff. (You really can’t.) The third debate was almost like a televised Dylan’s Candy Bar of material -- too much to chose from, not enough time to chose. The candy bar ranneth over, with a vast supply of material, much of it supplied by the usual suspect.
But the late night guys have gotten particularly adept at this process now -- among the most adroit, Seth Meyers, who did not have a live edition Wednesday -- and they chose wisely and well for the most part.
Kimmel finally jumped in the “live” pool with a strong enough edition to suggest that he squandered the opportunity to go live all the other times.
In his monologue, he couldn’t resist the small hand joke -- Donald Trump’s hands now the surrogate punchline for the tired hair ones -- saying “Hillary tried to shake Donald Trump’s hand but couldn’t find it.” He noted that “to his credit, Trump did try to keep his answers short” and ... cut to a string of “wrongs.” Kimmel -- the only late night host without a ready-to-order Trump impression -- noted that “his voice was like a phone sex whisper, almost like he was doing an impression of Alec Baldwin doing an impression of him.”
Kimmel found probably the best one-off to the line where Trump noted that “I didn’t even apologize to my wife” over the various groping allegations (which he disputed).
Jimmy: “I believe that. I do believe that...”
Everyone had a joke about Trump’s invitation of Barack Obama half-brother Malik Obama, but Kimmel suggested that “If I was Hillary, I would’ve invited Billy Bush to the debate -- had him rolled in on the bus.”
The backdrop on the stage in Las Vegas incorporated a long passage from the Declaration of Independence, and also incorporated a joke that everyone seemed to find pretty quickly. During the question when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump about his charges concerning a “rigged” election, the camera caught the word “rig” over Clinton’s right shoulder.
Kimmel: “Have fun with that crazy internet people.”
Kimmel’s best moment fell outside the monologue, in a fastcut of vice presidential nominee Mike Pence disagreeing with Trump on a number of major issues, which (naturally) provided the context for the next “debate” of the cycle: “The Presidential Nominee Versus His Very Own Vice Presidential Nominee Debate.”
His weakest moment also fell outside, when he tossed to Ken Bone -- the red-sweatered guy from the last debate -- in Las Vegas. Since disavowed by every other late night host following revelations that Bone had posted comments about nude Jennifer Lawrence photos on Reddit, Kimmel for some inexplicable reason continues to find his very own Mujibur and Sirajul in this guy. Now that the debates have ended, perhaps these 15 minutes of fame will mercifully wrap as well?
Meanwhile, Colbert -- who got this “live” party started over the summer with his string of post-convention live telecasts -- gets kudos for perhaps the most inspired Quentin Tarantino reference of the evening, noting that Trump spokesman Kellyanne Conway took questions from the press after the debate, then ... cut to a clip from “Kill Bill,” in which The Bride (Uma Thurman) is leveling a room full of assassins with her broadsword.
He noted the candidates’ attire and ... cut to Clinton and her white pantsuit: “She came out dressed as a “Star Trek: Deep Space” pope...”
But Colbert saved his best for last. During the exchange where Trump disputed Clinton’s charge that he was a “puppet” of Vladimir Putin, Colbert disappeared from the stage, and a pair of sock puppets then appeared. ( “That was less juvenile than the debate,” he said.)
Of the line -- the most riotously ridiculous of the night -- when Trump insisted that he should have in fact won an Emmy for “The Apprentice,” Colbert disappeared once again, to return with the pair of Emmys he won for “The Colbert Report:” “They’re GREAT,” he said. (Loosely and obviously translated as, Eat your heart out, Donald).
Trevor Noah’s live postgame shows also began over the summer and have proved to be defining moments for the Man Who Would Be Jon Stewart. A facile stand-up, he aced these for the most part. Wednesday was a standout.
Like the other later nighters, he quickly found the most obvious material but found some less obvious bits. Noah is actually at his best when high dudgeon replaces snark -- those moments when he is so aghast (or furious) that even one-liners seem inadequate to the task of dismantling the target.
Clinton stepped on this particular Noah land mine: When she remonstrated Trump for his support of Putin and the Russians’ hacking of emails, leading to the WikiLeaks revelations, Noah said, “yes, you’re right, but now that that information is out there, you can’t expect us to ignore it. It’s like some guy saying ‘yeah, honey, but how did you find out that I had stripper glue on my shirt? Was it Putin?’”
Of Trump’s assertion that he was robbed of his Emmy, Noah had this to say: “WHO IS THIS MAN?! Is that going to be his first order of business? Emmy reform?”
Noah’s guest, Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi, offered what may have been the most insightful observation of night. During a discussion of Trump’s claim the he would wait until after the election to decide whether he would accept the results, Taibbi said: “His fatal flaw is that he can’t stop being a reality TV star. If you are a reality TV star, that’s exactly what you’d want to do -- promote the final episode.”