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Late Night Television Turns From Funny To Somber

Host Jimmy Kimmel speaks at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017.
(Chris Pizzello/AP)
Host Jimmy Kimmel speaks at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. (Chris Pizzello/AP)

From Jimmy Kimmel on health care to Trevor Noah on police shootings, late -night comedy is getting serious.

Trevor Noah railing against police shootings. Jimmy Kimmel breaking down about Las Vegas. And everyone—from Seth Meyers to Stephen Colbert to John Oliver—having a field day skewering Trump. Johnny Carson’s Amazing Kreskin? So quaint. Today’s late night comedy is whacking at heavy social and political issues with sharp-edged satire. And, sometimes, tears. This hour, On Point: Late night comedy gets serious. — Jane Clayson.


Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, where he is also a professor. He is also the editor of an ongoing series of books about television published by Syracuse University Press.

Bill Carter, media analyst at CNN, contributor for the Hollywood Reporter, and host on Sirius 121. Former longtime New York Times television reporter. Author of “The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for the Night” and “The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy.”(@wjcarter)

From The Reading List

CNN: How Jimmy Kimmel Became America’s Conscience — “Just a couple of weeks after his emotional stand against the latest Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Kimmel is back stage center, this time in the renewed debate about gun control. Kimmel’s impassioned, tearful plea for action on guns after his hometown of Las Vegas was ravaged by a killer wielding an arsenal was the centerpiece of a universal cry of despair that marked the response to the tragedy among late-night television hosts Monday night.”

Variety: Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Other Late-Night TV Hosts Address Las Vegas Shooting — “In doing so, the wee-hours comedians are making what was once rare into the commonplace. For decades, the hosts rarely addressed moments of national tragedy. David Letterman famously provided a seminal example in 2001, offering up thoughts on the terrorist strike on the World Trade Center in September of that year. He was widely credited for helping the nation jump-start its engines after a shocking attack on its home shores. But the incident was notable because it was seldom seen. In recent months, perhaps due to a growing array of violent incidents and a social-media lens that magnifies them, more of the late-night hosts are addressing them – and gaining plaudits for doing so.”

The Week: America’s Late-Night Hosts Are Uniformly Disappointed With Trump’s Charlottesville Abdication — “Lots of people had been calling on Trump to specifically criticize the white-supremacist groups, especially as one of their members had run down a group of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and wounding at least 19 others, and among those not impressed with Trump’s delayed response were the hosts of late-night comedy shows. Yes, even Jimmy Fallon.”

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