The GOP convention begins Monday, and for the late-night TV community, a new day begins as well. Over the next two weeks, there will be a bounty of material that should present itself constantly ... relentlessly. Stephen Colbert — in costume once again as Caesar Flickerman of “The Hunger Games” -- has already launched the follies, unofficially, Sunday at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (See below).
Political conventions — Republican and Democrat — have evolved into sales pitches for parties and their platforms, but inherent in that pitch is parody. Think about the sales pitch for any product — the flip side is always parody, and it’s an easy, natural default position for late night TV hosts.
The challenge this week and next is obvious: With three more police fatalities, this time in Baton Rouge, and with sharply divided parties, a pallor hangs over these events in 2016. Where’s the “fun” (or “funny”) in any of this? Where’s the found comedy?
That’s the biggest challenge before late night hosts this week, possibly the obstacle, too.
But also the promise. Late night TV at its best can put politics in sharp perspective, or deflate that which demands deflation.
That’s at its best. Will we get the best in over the next 14 days? Or will get something else?
This week and next, I will decide:
What made me laugh (possibly you)? What made me wince (also possible you)? Day by day, night by night, we will go looking for the best in late night.
And of course, the follies have already begun. Both Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert have been at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland to pretape bits for their respective shows, “The Daily Show” and “Late Show” (which, in a late night first, will air live from the Ed Sullivan this week and next).
Colbert Sunday crashed the podium in costume — as Caesar Flickerman, host of “The Hunger Games,” with the towering purple coif and malice in his heart. Stanley Tucci has played him in the movies; Colbert has co-opted him for a running gag that began when his “Late Show” run began last fall.
On Sunday, he mounted the stage (in costume) then spoke for about 20 seconds: “It is my honor to hereby launch and begin the 2016 Republican National Hungry for Power Games,” then noted that presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump had “formed an alliance with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.” He then fell into a brief silence, or torpor (“sorry, I blacked out there for a moment”), and was hustled off the stage by security, but not before shouting: “I know I’m not supposed to be here, but ... neither is Trump.”
What made me laugh: That throwaway line. How could it not?
What didn’t: Colbert’s Flickerman as a running bit began well, then — reprising it each time a candidate in either party dropped out — began to slowly wear out its welcome. Fatigue was inevitable (after all, how many GOP candidates were there?). But Colbert had committed himself, and Flickerman is back again. At least he’ll have an interesting week.