After two weeks of coverage, which late night talk shows will get the post-convention bounce for their takes on the RNC and DNC? Here are the bouncers and bouncees:
“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” — After nearly a year searching for the Real Stephen Colbert, the Real Stephen Colbert may have finally been found, in a series of live broadcasts that were full of energy and creativity. Also found, in one instance, was the Fake Stephen Colbert and — in another instance, the identical cousin of the fake Stephen Colbert, also named Stephen Colbert. (Little wonder this search for identity has been so confounding.)
Thanks to his live broadcasts full of energy and creativity -- am I repeating myself? Yes, I am, but they were also FUNNY -- Colbert gets the biggest late night convention bounce of them all. Colbert’s live shows (two of which featured Jon Stewart) were late night’s best fare these last two weeks, establishing that live is sometimes better than tape. Colbert got first crack at Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — and didn’t squander the opportunity. These shows felt immediate and fresh because they were. They also felt “late night,” and were, not taped “late afternoon.” The energy and crowds are different late at night, and the studio audience did seem amped (draw your own reasons why) most of those nights, too.
Colbert even made news. By exhuming the Fake Colbert last week, along with “The Word of the Day,” he poked the bear — in this case, Viacom’s lawyers, who demanded that he never exhume himself again. Can you imagine the legal entanglements of that particular conversation? “Stephen must never do Stephen again because WE OWN STEPHEN.”
Stephen then created a brand-new Stephen, and the rest is late night history.
Colbert gets the biggest late night convention bounce of them all.
“Late Night With Seth Meyers” — Meyers was on a bit of a roll before the conventions anyway, but he certainly did nothing to slow the roll. These were two solid weeks for “Late Night,” while “A Closer Look” — the show’s calling card, borrowed (sorta) from “Weekend Update” — packed more sharply crafted political jokes than all of the other late night shows combined. There’s something genial and also something seditious about “Late Night”; it also seems to exhibit not a care in the world about who wins the pending election, as long as the combatants keep providing the material. (OK, sure, fine...let's make the obvious assumption "LN" wants Hillary Clinton -- Donald Trump has been banned from this show, you may have heard -- but good material is good material.)
“Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” — Bee’s “Full Frontal” specials were tightly packed, funny and — occasionally, opportunistically — full of rage. Her wrap of the GOP convention (“GOPdammerung”) was one of the single best pre-produced packages of any show anywhere these two weeks. To a fast-cut of frothing GOP speeches set to Verdi’s Requiem (Verdi's words in the background -- “the day of wrath shall consume the world to ashes”) and in the foreground, GOP leaders, and supporters, who were talking — no, YELLING — about the end times.
Rudy Giuliani, for example, insisted that if Hillary Clinton wins, “There won’t be another election.” Bee: “There won’t be another election? You mean no one’s going to wake Rudy Giuliani from his crypt in four years to spit incoherently on TV? You know, I guess there is a silver lining behind every mushroom cloud.” ZZZZaaappp. How many other zzzzaaappps from Bee — almost all directed at the GOP — these past two weeks? Too many to count, but most found their targets. She’s taken up residence in that left-wing pulpit from which Stewart delivered so much fire and damnation over 16 years. She does “comic fury” quite well, and with considerable brains too. For all those aggrieved Stewart fans who miss their nightly dose of his animus, this Bee may be for you. (But, sorry, just once a week.)
“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” — After Colbert, Noah may be the biggest bounce recipient out of these two weeks. You sense that while this may not have been the end of his late-night indoctrination trial (by fire), the conventions were surely the most important to date.
Of course, Jon Stewart would have made far more noise but — repeat after me — this isn’t about Jon Stewart. He’s “retired,” gone, over and out. The new guy is who we have, and the new guy is ... good.
Fans knew this before the conventions, and to believe Comedy Central, they are a younger and more diverse crowd than the Stewart one. He had nothing to prove to them, particularly, but he did need to prove something to the doubters out there, and did.
There was one 8-minute stretch Wednesday full of outrage, disbelief, passion and dumbfoundedness. The only thing missing was Noah heaving his shoe at the camera. Naturally, the target — the intended one — was Trump, but this was the sort of performance the doubters needed and got. Noah appears to have arrived.
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” — Politics isn’t a Kimmel sweet spot anyway — never has been — but I still got the sense that he sometimes does political humor under duress, or perhaps just to kill a little time before getting to “The Bachelor/ette” jokes. He even kept his long-running “Jimmy Kimmel for Vice President” gambit going a little while longer, but even that felt winded.
Worse, for Thursday’s show he dusted off the “Troompa Loompas” — little people dressed as Oompa Loompa Trumps, and straight out of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The Troompa Loompas have been around a while — far too long in fact — and are probably the dottiest, dopiest late night idea since the Dancing Itos, and just about as funny. No bounce for “JKL.”
“The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” — If any late-night show was less in need of a bounce, it’s “Tonight,” the unchallenged leader. And so, “Tonight” played these two weeks safe — safe and dull. There were a few good jokes; there always are. (Fallon’s Trump impersonation is late night’s best.) But these two weeks were mostly uneventful. NBC seemed happy, or perhaps anxious, to cede the political territory to “Late Show” — political humor does carry risks — and its own “Late Night,” while leaving the pop culture soap bubbles to Jimmy.