Funny or Not Funny
April 25, 2019 9:55 AM   Subscribe

How "Liberal" Late-Night Talk Shows Became A Comedy Sinkhole This derangement presumably stems from a refusal to face the America that propelled Trump to the White House. For all they hate him, they yearn, as he does, for a “lost” country that younger generations view with skepticism. “No one wants to confront the fact that they grew up in a time that was pretty sexist and racist because then they’d have to stop being nostalgic for everything,” this writer says. “See: Aaron Sorkin.”
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (156 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
If anyone is, as I was, curious about the source here:

Dollar Shave Club’s men’s magazine “Mel” grows up [Fast Company]
posted by ryanshepard at 10:02 AM on April 25 [4 favorites]


But what if I find John Oliver unwatchable too?
posted by timdiggerm at 10:08 AM on April 25 [11 favorites]


There seem to be at least two ideas (maybe more) muddled together here that might benefit from teasing out. (1) That late-night Trump jokes aren't very good jokes. A reasonable assessment, though it's worth keeping in mind that most late-night jokes aren't very good jokes. I watched Conan on and off when I was younger, and will still occasionally tune in (the "Conan Without Borders" series will surprise you), but you couldn't pay me to watch Kimmel or Fallon--or Leno before them. But still, fair enough, bad jokes are bad jokes regardless of whether there's a tradition of bad jokes. (2) That it's somehow wrong to engage in middle-of-the-road humor at a time like this. That one seems like it needs a lot more support. If it's the job of a late-night show to generate a certain kind of humor, then using Trump as a topic in that way seems better than flat-out ignoring him. It doesn't make you complicit, I don't think.

There's also a sort of "white dude = auto-pointless" fog over the piece. That's not a sentiment I'm totally out of sympathy with, obviously, but when I see it articulated by a white dude from Brooklyn who went to Williams and wrote a novel, I tend to suspect that the person may be presenting a flattened version of an analysis he doesn't fully grok.
posted by praemunire at 10:13 AM on April 25 [32 favorites]


You could fairly accuse me of hating late-night talk shows long before they transformed into entertainment for Resistance Boomers who think that calling Trump “the Cheeto-in-Chief” is devastatingly clever.

My dude, it is time to forgive your mom for growing up in an era when one could be effortlessly and authentically amused by David Letterman.
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:16 AM on April 25 [39 favorites]


But what if I find John Oliver unwatchable too?

I think you may just have to accept that sometimes not everything is for you.
posted by howfar at 10:18 AM on April 25 [46 favorites]


See also: The Onion in the age of social media.
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:21 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


I suspect that part of the problem is here:

“I’ve honestly never understood the notion of commenting on the news in late night anyway,” he adds, “but I think it’s just a relic of a time when you might legitimately be learning about things for the first time at 11 p.m.....

These late night shows were not meant to be where anyone learned about things for the first time. They were meant to be the places where we went to hear jokes about the news, not where we heard the news. We had newspapers and news programs for the news. The news media was who was supposed to be delving into the analysis on "why did we go to Iraq" and "what's the significance of the Whitewater Report" and "what might it mean that Trump isn't releasing his tax returns". The late night shows were supposed to riff on the revelations that someone else came up with.

But then the news programs started dropping the ball, and late night shows could either try to stick with the formula by riffing on the same stuff they always riffed on because that was all we had, or trying to become the news media, which was something they weren't equipped for as well as actual journalists (not that they weren't capable, more like, it's not what their shows were designed to do).

With a functioning news media, not only would the rest of the public be better informed, the late night talk shows would have more new material to riff on.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:22 AM on April 25 [102 favorites]


You could fairly accuse me of hating late-night talk shows long before they transformed into entertainment for Resistance Boomers who think that calling Trump “the Cheeto-in-Chief” is devastatingly clever.

My dude, it is time to forgive your mom for growing up in an era when one could be effortlessly and authentically amused by David Letterman.


I'm old enough to remember what came before Letterman. This kind of stuff feels a bit like vaccine denial in that people who are unfamiliar with the earlier horrors are unable to appreciate the overall progress. We live in a weird fugue-like state of generational amnesia.

That said I've always thought the point of late night talk shows is help people get to sleep.

So they are in it for the lulls.
posted by srboisvert at 10:27 AM on April 25 [126 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the Tonight Show will get its mojo back on October 16th.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:28 AM on April 25 [18 favorites]


....what happens on October 16th?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:31 AM on April 25 [8 favorites]


For an idea of how the sausage actually gets seasoned, Laurie Kilmartin, who writes for Conan, posted her 'transitions list' which is a collection of phrases that get you from a bit in the news to a punch line. It's really educational from a writing point of view but also once you read it you will hate watching late night monologues even more. Link.

Some samples: "And the good news is", "or as he calls it", "even more amazingly."
posted by Space Coyote at 10:33 AM on April 25 [50 favorites]


When cynical distance and ironic posturing have become the prevalent means of relating to public life, political humour is no longer considered subversive. It has been argued that both in Russia and the United States, ideology has co-opted satire, meaning that citizens can consume outrage passively through various satirical media products, thereby displacing outrage and abstaining from more active forms of resistance. This articles explores the twenty-first century potential of irony and cynicism to disrupt and subvert through parody, be it in the form of political satire or ironic protest, examining how similar paradigms are expressed across different geographical contexts.

(cite)
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 10:33 AM on April 25 [10 favorites]


I'm old enough to remember what came before Letterman. This kind of stuff feels a bit like vaccine denial in that people who are unfamiliar with the earlier horrors are unable to appreciate the overall progress.

thank you.
posted by philip-random at 10:35 AM on April 25 [14 favorites]


Tom Lehrer was writing lacerating political satire decades before Letterman.
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:37 AM on April 25 [17 favorites]


stems from a refusal to face the America that propelled Trump to the White House.

Yaa, helped, but if CNN had just hung up the damned phone...

(question, did CNN push Trump for future hate watch BREAKING NEWS ratings? No really, legit question)
posted by sammyo at 10:38 AM on April 25 [4 favorites]


From the article:
“Monologue-wise, there’s just a bunch of shortcuts-to-jokes that every writer knows to hit for Trump stories now,” the exasperated TV writer tells me. […]

He adds, “Trying to push any new idea, even if it’s low-risk, is a series of hurdles that almost always ends in different producers saying they ‘don’t see it,’ or shutting it down because they don’t get a reference that the entire rest of the world would get, or bristling at the idea of even mentioning race/gender/sex in any creative way that isn’t already some catchphrase on a department store T-shirt.”

… if they wanted to follow the model of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, arguably the best comedy/news hybrid of the moment, they’d have to renovate their show from top to bottom. Besides, the success of Last Week Tonight has less to do with its roasting of Trump than a willingness to wander into the weeds on arcane or poorly understood stories to make sense of America’s fundamental brokenness. You get real information there.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:40 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


I mostly get my late-night new fix via Seth Meyer's A Closer Look and some Last Week Tonight segments. I used to be all in on late-night political comedy but I've distanced myself from so much of that because it's so relentless and exhausting. I still want some laughs, I still want to be informed and to know what those in power are doing, but fuck I'm so tired.

I also don't see this type of comedy making much of a difference. Yes it calls out assholes and acknowledges that "none of this is normal" and we need to keep saying that. THIS IS NOT NORMAL. But it also just further entrenches people in ideology that they've already decided upon.

I mean one alternative where you engage in discourse with someone that disagrees with you and work hard to try to personalize how a political decision you find hurtful impacts you in a meaningful way so that the other person you're trying to convince is empathetic, this process is long and arduous and not always successful, but that is one alternative and one way of fighting back.

And even then, this is putting a lot of work and emotional baggage on the person to try to convince someone else. It's such shit and I'm just so god damn tired of it all. I want to be engaged, I want to care, I want to fight back but I'm also exhausted. I hate that the people in my office have been listening and agreeing more and more with Jordan Peterson and don't listen to me when I mention that as a person of colour, I am often afraid of those who are in authority.

So this is a long way of saying, I take my late night comedy in small doses and I'm just tired and often scared. /end rant
posted by Fizz at 10:41 AM on April 25 [24 favorites]


the point of late night talk shows is help people get to sleep

Yes, the comedy on these shows is objectively terrible. Formulaic, repetitive, predictable and repetitive. Did I mention repetitive?

Even if it's mostly unfunny, I can get the gist of the US political pratfall du jour in a four-minute monologue much more efficiently than watching hours of octo-panels of talking heads and spinmeisters on cable news.

And if I can get a rare chuckle at a joke that I didn't see coming, that's just a bonus.
posted by ascii at 10:42 AM on April 25 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I think the problem is that the late-night format was designed to come on after the news and prime-time television. They were never meant to be news programs themselves. In fact the one time NBC tried to make its late-night show more serious, it flopped.

The Daily Show was a pretty weird beast when it first started in the 90s (Wikipedia says it started in '96, but nobody remembers that because it was with Craig Kilborn and not Jon Stewart, who didn't take over until '99—Kilborn, ironically, went to an actual late-night show but flamed out after five years). I remember people suggesting derisively that it was "news for kids who can't read" (uncharitable) and "news for the MTV generation" (actually pretty much spot on). But Stewart basically had to invent a new format, because the traditional late-night format just didn't work on Comedy Central, given the audience and timeslot—which IIRC was like midafternoon at first. So it ended up being a news program in addition to a commentary/satire program; despite Stewart's occasional claims to not actually being in the news business, it spent substantial amounts of time actually explaining stories, rather than assuming you'd already heard about them.

Doing a news program that's also funny is a pretty tall order. TDS got a lot of criticism for pulling punches, which it did, and avoiding stuff that fundamentally just wasn't funny, which it also did. But it managed. Sometimes I think the fact that Stewart looked more like a news anchor—I heard someone once describe him as "low-budget Anderson Cooper" and it seems like praising with faint damnation—probably helped quite a bit.

So, yeah, the late night programs fall flat if you watched Stewart and want something in the same vein. But I don't know if that makes them objectively bad; they're apparently still quite popular, and I don't think they're any stupider or more facile than they've always been. (Go back and watch some Leno or Letterman clips from the 90s if you don't believe this to be true. Oof.) It's just something I've decided is Not For Me.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:42 AM on April 25 [20 favorites]


“I’ve honestly never understood the notion of commenting on the news in late night anyway,” he adds, “but I think it’s just a relic of a time when you might legitimately be learning about things for the first time at 11 p.m.....

These late night shows were not meant to be where anyone learned about things for the first time. They were meant to be the places where we went to hear jokes about the news, not where we heard the news. We had newspapers and news programs for the news.


Those news programs aired at 11 p.m., is what that writer was saying. You get home, you have dinner during the 6 o'clock news, you watch prime time, and then you get your daily dose of TV news at 11, which blends seamlessly into Carson, who's commenting on those things you just heard about.
posted by Etrigan at 10:45 AM on April 25 [11 favorites]


(question, did CNN push Trump for future hate watch BREAKING NEWS ratings? No really, legit question)

Big Media pushed Trump because he was such a no-hoper and they needed at least a hint of a horse race through election season 2016 in order to attract viewers, sell ads yadda-yadda-yadda. Guess they underestimated their own strength.

On the upside, Trump's win has definitely attracted viewers, sold ads etc. On the downside, Trump won.
posted by philip-random at 10:50 AM on April 25 [10 favorites]


Those news programs aired at 11 p.m., is what that writer was saying. You get home, you have dinner during the 6 o'clock news, you watch prime time, and then you get your daily dose of TV news at 11, which blends seamlessly into Carson, who's commenting on those things you just heard about.

That's actually what I meant; I mis-remembered the times in question. I was thinking "6 o'clock is news, Johnny Carson/late night is comedy". Forgot the 11 pm news repeat.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:50 AM on April 25


But that ultimately just reinforces my point, which is that the news is supposed to tell you WHAT happened and the late night shows are supposed to riff ABOUT it. The late night shows aren't supposed to be doing both.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:51 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


....what happens on October 16th?

The McElroy brothers have a podcast about their quest to be on Trolls 2. As part of their quest, they're "trying" to get their agent to book them on the Tonight Show on October 16th (they're busy on the other days).
posted by No One Ever Does at 10:52 AM on April 25 [5 favorites]


Look, I'm just happy when I visit my grandparents and they've got Colbert on and not Bill Maher. Small mercies.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:53 AM on April 25 [37 favorites]


Colbert, Kimmel and Fallon's monologues have to be keyed to their live viewership which is fairly advanced in age and not especially high-brow. A comedy writer who's dream is to be writing for a Netflix comedy series during the day and doing stand-up spots on the LES or in West Hollywood at night is not going to find that satisfying work.
posted by MattD at 10:53 AM on April 25 [3 favorites]


Whereas the Lewinsky gags, abhorrent and vapid as they were, may have felt fresh to people who didn’t have the chance to make those jokes online, no lighthearted potshot at Trump taken by a late-night host will compare to the scabrously funny, unbroadcastable shit people tweet about the president 24/7.
So late-night host resort to reading Tweets verbatim into the camera.
posted by ascii at 10:54 AM on April 25 [3 favorites]


These shows are fucking unwatchable.

Hyperbole much ? I enjoy Colbert's monologues, Seth's Closer Looks, all of Samantha Bee and John Oliver is the best.
posted by Pendragon at 10:54 AM on April 25 [38 favorites]


John Oliver. Man, he's like a dumb joke at a funeral. It isn't funny at all, but you laugh because the contrast between what is expected and what the circumstances demand is utterly absurd. Comparing it to these other shows is a bit of a category error even though he frequently goes after the same easy tropes.
posted by klanawa at 10:55 AM on April 25 [5 favorites]


See also: The Onion in the age of social media.

I know this is off-topic, but their Buzzfeed-parody spinoff site, Clickhole, is really funny.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:56 AM on April 25 [21 favorites]


Klanawa, your entitled to your opinion.




Also, you're wrong.
posted by Pendragon at 10:56 AM on April 25 [46 favorites]


So late-night host resort to reading Tweets verbatim into the camera.

Fact is, I'll hear jokes on Colbert that really are just recapitulating the tamer jokes that have already run their course on Twitter. It's not really the writers' fault, there are so many funny people making snappy jokes on Twitter that writing something genuinely different under insane time constraints is quite unlikely.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:57 AM on April 25 [5 favorites]


(Wikipedia says it started in '96, but nobody remembers that because it was with Craig Kilborn and not Jon Stewart, who didn't take over until '99—Kilborn, ironically, went to an actual late-night show but flamed out after five years).

Hey now, I used to watch the shit out of Kilborn's Daily Show. I was even at the taping of his very last one!
posted by Automocar at 10:58 AM on April 25 [17 favorites]


Well shit, I guess that settles it.
posted by klanawa at 10:58 AM on April 25 [5 favorites]


For me, a big part of the problem is that all these jokes about all these shitty Republicans have achieved at most nothing and arguably less than nothing. Almost no awful right-wing politician or pundit has suffered any meaningful consequences in the last 20 years, certainly not because of being made fun of on TV, and it increasingly seems like the only way to actually be rid of any of them, no matter how bigoted, stupid, corrupt, and hypocritical they have loudly and publicly been, is to wait for them to die. Anything short of physical death and they just find some soft landing making TV appearances and drawing million-dollar salaries for some billionaire's money-sink think tank/vanity publication.

For example, I was watching some Autotune the News videos after the anniversary post from last night and, while genuinely enjoying them, I kept seeing people like Chuck Grassley and Newt Gingrich pop up and realizing that in the 10 years that have passed since those videos, basically nothing has changed for them. They're immune to mockery of any sort. The quality of the jokes in late-night shows could definitely be better, but even the stuff that we could get broad agreement was funny and/or good didn't actually do all that much concretely. Christopher Hitchens may have gotten EVISCERATED by Stewart, but he still got to be on TV, calling for more death and destruction, as much as he wanted to, until he died.

I realize that this might be a ludicrously lofty goal for a bunch of comedians who are just trying to make jokes about current events, but it's also a goal they sort of set for themselves by delving into partisan politics. Even the laziest Cheeto-in-Chief joke is trying to achieve something in the telling, and the more-or-less total failure of all of them to fulfill that kind of makes the whole enterprise a little depressing. I'm not saying that everyone should stop all political and current-events comedy until we achieve a socialist utopia or whatever, but I do think it's a little harder to make this sort of television enjoyable in the current political and social environment.
posted by Copronymus at 11:04 AM on April 25 [23 favorites]


I have a lot of respect for Colbert, but I suspect I'd be a more actualized human if I never again had to hear his Trump impression.
posted by philip-random at 11:04 AM on April 25 [12 favorites]


Hey now, I use to watch the shit out of Kilborn's Daily Show. I was even at the taping of his very last one!
posted by Automocar at 1:58 PM on April 25


At last!
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:05 AM on April 25 [15 favorites]


For me it's just the seemingly continuous increase in the felt need to be funny, get a laugh, burn, or slam as the measure of successful engagement that's most irksome. It all seems so twitter and politics and everything else needing to be entertaining in the most basic sense of the term. I can't blame the shows for this on their own, but I'm not going to hold them immune from the outcome either. It's all part of the same dynamic and it doesn't seem at all healthy.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:06 AM on April 25 [8 favorites]


I have a lot of respect for Colbert, but I suspect I'd be a more actualized human if I never again had to hear his Trump impression.

I used to be a huge fan of his, like... I travelled from New York to DC to see his portrait in the National Portrait Gallery (this was a thing, look it up), I had a tote bag with his picture on it, I ate his fucking gross ice cream a couple times... but I slowly lost interest and I feel like he completely lost the thread when he went to network late night. Colbert is proof that the format of network late night just eats you alive, no matter who you are.
posted by Automocar at 11:10 AM on April 25 [9 favorites]


Colbert and, to a certain extent, Oliver have become part of the power structure. In their current format, they are boring and talk about boring things.

Eric Andre is where it's at with "talk shows". Andre is the David Letterman (rather: Merrill Markoe) of his generation.
posted by JamesBay at 11:13 AM on April 25 [7 favorites]


At last!

who's up for Yambo?
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:14 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Hard agree with this entire article.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:14 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


Now that the gate is open, I need to say this: John Oliver is an unfunny person with very good writers. I can watch his program only because his subject material is interesting, treating him as a conduit to good writing. His mugging is only to the detriment of his material.

Thank you all for your time.
posted by Dmenet at 11:15 AM on April 25 [10 favorites]


“I have been venting about this very shit to [a friend] for about five months now,” he writes to me in a Twitter DM. “To me, this is all because of two big things, one being that the late night writers’ rooms are all extremely homogeneous groups of cynical, miserable white comedy dudes who figure out the ‘formula’ for the show early on and then never really work harder than they need to. Which makes sense, because the other big thing is that the people who make the actual decisions on these shows are all older, white dudes who are out of touch (but don’t think they are) and are never thinking in terms of comedy or upending power or doing anything interesting with the format, they just maintain the status quo and follow a formula of ‘thing we’ve done + a celebrity = hit.’”

These gatekeepers are how we will end up with a Biden primary and henceforth Trump re-election.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 11:17 AM on April 25 [18 favorites]


What motivates these weirdos? Why do they care what I think? And how did they even stumble across that tweet?
Well, it's twitter, so your first mistake is to assume that they're all really people.
They’re nourished and sustained by the consoling lie that Trump is an aberration of the system, not an avatar of its very nature; that everything will go back to “normal” one day, provided we keep ridiculing his hideous combover and fake tan.
I don't know who Miles Klee is when he's at home and I think he's probably expecting too much from a tv genre that's always been pretty lazy and tedious, but I do think he makes a couple stabs at identifying a division that I very much see in my own local cohort of 40-55 yr old acquaintances: those who seem permanently stuck on repeating everything Trump says with a kind of shocked disbelief and those who seem to take for granted just how fucked everything is and don't fucking talk about Trump much at all. There's the friend of mine who has new "Cheeto-in-Charge"-level epithets every time I see him (which, yes, are often riffs on the color orange), the friend I can barely talk to anymore because every conversation becomes just a recitation of headlines and a "Can you believe this?!" and the friend who is adamant that there's no way Trump wins a second term. And I shrug and nod, because while some of this behavior is ideologically motivated, I suppose—these people are white, straight, and professionally secure—(and the less said about the gay friend who invoked "the pendulum theory" to dismiss Trump's threat to LGBTQ people, the better)—it's probably also a different way of dealing with trauma, I tell myself.

I tell myself that because it drives me up the fucking wall.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:22 AM on April 25 [8 favorites]


I always liked Kilborn (when I was, admittedly, a child). My feelings about him took a sharp dive when I learned about what an abusive, unbearable prick he is. Apparently it's not just for TV!

I really like Samantha Bee, and I think her show might have been really entertaining if the election had turned out differently. Now...like most of late night, I can't stand watching it. I read the actual news, and catch plenty of jokes on Twitter. Sometimes I watch Seth Myers, because it's nice watching everyone on the show enjoy themselves. (If you want to kill time with feel-good late night, I would direct your attention to Busy Tonight. It's not entirely apolitical -- I believe Busy Phillips is a big booster of Planned Parenthood, and mentions it occasionally, which is enough to count as "political" in this hell timeline -- but she's definitely not talking about what all the other late night shows are.)
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:23 AM on April 25 [3 favorites]


I haven't read the article, I'm just going to complain about current comedians.

I may give up on John Oliver. I'm not sure what happened, but he used to be much funnier. I'm not sure whether he used to be less formulaic, or whether him becoming more self-assured took the edge off.

Oliver and Colbert both do a lot of body-shaming. I'm tired of it.

Colbert's Trump impression is so ugly he makes Trump sound relatively good.

Trevor Noah at least does very little body-shaming, but he's becoming less fun, too.

Part of the problem may be that there are no good new jokes about Trump left.

Any there any comedians folks here recommend?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 11:23 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


To my mind, the problem is that there are just too many of these shows on the air.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:26 AM on April 25 [7 favorites]


those who seem permanently stuck on repeating everything Trump says with a kind of shocked disbelief and those who seem to take for granted just how fucked everything is...

just a recitation of headlines and a "Can you believe this?!"
the awful talk shows are complicit in this barbaric regime by diminishing any rebuke of it to the scope of a half-assed Alec Baldwin impression...

they will continue hitting him with an inflatable hammer, because a genuine crisis isn’t enough to disrupt business as usual
This is the essence of our dilemma.

We are unable to confront a genuine crisis with anything more than dumb jokes and resignation.

The late night shows just reflect our own apathy.
posted by ascii at 11:30 AM on April 25 [11 favorites]


Sometimes I watch Colbert's trumpologue because I'm apparently a masochist.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:30 AM on April 25


To my mind, the problem is that there are just too many of these shows on the air.

And the vast majority of them are white men. I know that there are some people of colour & women but not enough. Give me more Samantha Bee, Hasan Minaj, Desus & Mero, and Larry Wilmore (I know he got cancelled but he has a podcast you should be listening to). Just keeping it 💯 !
posted by Fizz at 11:31 AM on April 25 [15 favorites]


John Oliver is an unfunny person with very good writers

For what it's worth, I saw his standup show a few years ago and thought he was funny and worth the ticket. Also, consider The Bugle. Whether he is still funny is another question. I am not a huge fan of his show right now, possibly just due to how long the thing has been on, it just seems a bit stale.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:35 AM on April 25 [3 favorites]


(question, did CNN push Trump for future hate watch BREAKING NEWS ratings? No really, legit question)

I seem to recall reading somewhere at least one media bigwig postulating that a Trump win would be good for business. Which it has been for some, which raises a problem - if your job and your ratings depends on covering this administration or mining it for jokes, how seriously do you want change? How far are you going to go to provoke people versus just making everyone feel like you are "edgy" and they are too for listening?

Most of the court jesters have been captured by the system, and pointing out that the emperor has no clothes doesn't work when the emperor and his court don't care about his nudity.
posted by nubs at 11:36 AM on April 25


John Oliver is an unfunny person with very good writers

Ted. Ted the moth.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:37 AM on April 25


Please, for the love of God, STOP liking things I don't like! How many thinkpieces am I going to have to write, under how many pseudonyms, before you people fall into line? I swear to God, I barely have time for anything else! I haven't shaved in two weeks, I've only bathed once this week, and my refrigerator is more depressing than Otto from The Simpsons.

Please, God, I beg you. I can't keep writing these things forever.
posted by aramaic at 11:40 AM on April 25 [58 favorites]


I miss Larry Wilmore. I like his podcast, but what I miss the most was how he was able to make his show more like an ensemble than other shows. I could see different viewpoints on a subject at the same time, but it wasn't people yelling at each other.
posted by Quonab at 11:41 AM on April 25 [5 favorites]


Any there any comedians folks here recommend?

Marcella Arguello (Apple Music link) is my favourite working comic. She's centered more in pop culture than politics but she's broadtly good politically and has a hilarious Beyonce impression.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:42 AM on April 25


My issue is that it seems like the same jokes are retread from TDS to Tonight Show and occasionally The Late Show. I guess that's because they were all mined from twitter? What we need more is "Amber Says What", which is a national treasure.

Also, I have just realized that Samanatha Bee is now comedy's "60 Minutes" with a monologue at the beginning of the show. Its so good, but I can barely watch it because the news is so painful.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 11:43 AM on April 25 [6 favorites]


The problem with these shows is that the outrage is almost always purely performative. I would be more supportive if they were reminding people regularly that this shit is solved by voting, and that viewers should be registering voters and mobilizing to get people to the polls.

I'm a broken record on the voter registration front (to the point of currently building a website toward that end), as I believe it's the only thing that will move the country forward. The fix is simple: regular people who print out the forms, put them in envelopes and ask people if they are registered.

Liberals/progressives are in the majority virtually everywhere, even if the electorate doesn't reflect it. We can change that by getting more people registered and getting them to the polls.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 11:44 AM on April 25 [8 favorites]


FTA: “What motivates these weirdos? Why do they care what I think?”

Funny, those were my exact thoughts while reading this article. Why would anyone care what this bozo thinks?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:58 AM on April 25 [12 favorites]


In the spirit of making constructive suggestions, I think if you're not into network late-night because it's too lightweight in terms of how it handles content, there are a lot of things on to watch these days, because even as literally everything else may be going straight to hell, we do live in the Golden Age of TV.

There's still TDS, now with Trevor Noah, who I like although I admit to not watching the show that much except when I get sent clips of it. Through that very selective filter, it seems pretty good. Different from the Jon Stewart version, but still good—I'd probably watch it more if I still had cable.

Netflix has Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, which I've watched half-a-dozen or so episodes of, and it's pretty solid. Perhaps because of the streaming format, he tends more towards evergreen subjects than current events, but I think it works. He still manages to be funny, never (that I have noticed) punches down, and seems to be legitimately pissed at some of the more outrageous stuff—at least enough that he thankfully doesn't do the Leno/Letterman "haha jk" smirk after a particularly pointed joke. He's indicated that the show will get into no-shit investigative journalism in the future.

There's also Norm Macdonald Has a Show on Netflix, but I haven't watched it; it seems a bit heavy on the celebrities and gossip-y stuff for my taste (unless you're selling ground meat, I want zero percent celebrities). But I could be wrong.

I have some friends who were big fans of The Break with Michelle Wolf before it was cancelled, but I never got into it. The same thing happened to Chelsea, although they made many more episodes before it got the axe. I get the impression that Wolf's program was more serious and Handler's was more reliant on her standup and humor generally, but would be curious how they compare from people who've watched them.

Interested in what's out there that I'm missing; I'm sure it's a lot.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:02 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Your favorite comedy sucks.
posted by terrapin at 12:03 PM on April 25 [4 favorites]


the article isnt wrong that a lot of anti trump late nite is dull and toothless boomerism, but .... so? a lot of america is dull and toothless boomerism, so it's fairly consistent in that regard.

my question is- what is the work this article is trying to do? because it seems wholly focused on enraging leftists against liberals, or vice versa. yet another in a long, long list of attempts to (a) define these ill-defined groups and (b) alienate them from each other.

with all due respect, fuck that. fuck it forever. what's played out is not mediocre political humor-- that's evergreen. what's truly played out is this 2016 redux where we cannibalize each other over who is more purely anti trump as we watch him dance on all our graves.
posted by wibari at 12:19 PM on April 25 [30 favorites]


(unless you're selling ground meat, I want zero percent celebrities)

Actually I prefer 0% of celebrities in my ground meat too. Maybe that's just me?

unless there's some steer who's a YouTube sensation I don't know about or something
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:20 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


I liked Kilborn's Daily Show. But I remember being pretty pissed off when he mocked Owen Hart right after his death.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:20 PM on April 25


The last time anybody did anything in the neighborhood of cutting edge on a late-night comedy show, the host's name was Craig Ferguson. Nobody is watching these shows for cutting edge. They're watching them to get something occasionally funny, unlikely to spike the blood pressure, and generally pretty middle brow. I still catch Meyers' monologue pretty much every night, even though it's so formulaic that I've made a game of trying to identify which (usually Trump) clip will be the callback at the end of the monologue. I find calls to have more GOTV from late night talk shows frankly bizarre. Of course television is performative; while I don't think any of the late night hosts are secretly pro-Trump, they're all rich white guys so it's not like he's an active threat to them either, and anyway the idea that late night talk shows are somehow the vanguard of the resistance is just silly. It's pablum, it always has been, and that's not something to get bent out of shape about.
posted by axiom at 12:20 PM on April 25 [15 favorites]


I've largely given up on everything currently on television, and instead pass my time with panel shows and game shows made before I was born: What's My Line?, I've Got a Secret, even The Match Game. I find Fred Allen, John Charles Daly, Henry Morgan, Betsy Palmer, Richard Dawson and Charles Nelson Reilly to be much more companionable than anyone currently on the air.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:23 PM on April 25 [7 favorites]


The big late night shows have always been milquetoast pablum geared towards the lowest common denominator. The fact that shows with left-leaning audiences are now chock full of cringe-worthy Trump jokes is completely on brand.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:25 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


I miss Craig Ferguson
posted by Justin Case at 12:27 PM on April 25 [42 favorites]


They're watching them to get something occasionally funny, unlikely to spike the blood pressure...

I think that's what bugs me the most about these shows. They're mining genuine horrors for sensible chuckles. At least Jon Stewart had the decency to completely lose his shit on camera once in a while.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:34 PM on April 25 [8 favorites]


but it has to be authentic, not performative, when they lose their shit

just imagine a late night talk show where the host is so angry he cries and yells and then calms down a bit to tell you how to register to vote and look up your local polling place

now that's comedy! also, it will get the dumb people who do whatever the TV tells them (not you or me obvs) to vote correctly
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:37 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


I have a lot of respect for Colbert, but I suspect I'd be a more actualized human if I never again had to hear his Trump impression.

Or: anyone's. Too many people think it's hilarious to impersonate Trump. There are certain forms of media I just completely avoid now, because it's so emotionally painful for me to hear people sounding like that awful man.
posted by meese at 12:38 PM on April 25 [10 favorites]


Why has Geoff Peterson forsaken us in our hour of need...?

Though trying to come out every night these days and saying "It's a great day in America"...

Can't see Craig being able to have kept doing that.
posted by Windopaene at 12:42 PM on April 25 [5 favorites]


just remembered my favorite Craig Ferguson opening, set to the song "Look Out, There's A Monster Coming"

he was trying to warn us!!
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:44 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


"Hey Everyone! Its *a* day in America!" sob, head in hands
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 12:46 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


Most of the jokes boil down to: look at this crazy shit.

Which isn't that funny when it's just a big foetid agglomeration of turd.
posted by wotsac at 12:49 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


I liked this part of the article:
When I reframe that idea as “‘I shop at Whole Foods, so I’m not a reactionary,’” he replies, “[This is] the politics of 75 percent of Hollywood writers.” And so that’s the ideology served.
posted by clawsoon at 12:50 PM on April 25 [8 favorites]


I find calls for mainstream comedy shows to morph into adult Sesame Street for civics a little strange, and not likely to be effective.

I'm also just tired of people attacking people for not being whatever-ish enough when they themselves don't seem to be doing eff-all. I'm sure the professional contributions of a "resident tank-top dirtbag, shitposter and meme expert" for a sponsored men's magazine to the resistance are a-maz-ing. (*checks* Yep. "THE ANTI-CAPITALIST BRILLIANCE OF EARLY ADAM SANDLER" has surely brought the revolution one day closer.) People need to stop projecting their own frustration and inadequacy on other people.
posted by praemunire at 12:51 PM on April 25 [29 favorites]


No matter how good they are (and I think Colbert at his heights was really very good), the talk show format is going to be repetitive and formulaic, because nobody can produce high quality monologues consistently week after week, even with a great staff, because satire as a comedic or rhetorical tool is by its very nature less effective the more often it is deployed. Effective as in how well it transforms views or encourages behaviors to change, not necessarily how much laughter it engenders. Whether you find the 8,000th riff on conservative politics funny is not really a political issue at all--I suspect if I were to meet John Oliver or Samantha Bee we'd have to look fairly hard on issues about which we strongly disagree, but I can't stand either of their shows even though I think they're both intelligent, clever, etc. It's just not something I enjoy anymore, but if you do, good for you. The fact that I think their satire is ultimately ineffectual only goes so far as a fair criticism. I mean, I work in public service for indigent populations and I still don't think I've made a hugely positive change in the world, but I'd resent someone telling me what a waste of everyone's time my life's work is.
posted by skewed at 1:00 PM on April 25 [4 favorites]


just imagine a late night talk show where the host is so angry he cries and yells and then calms down a bit to tell you how to register to vote and look up your local polling place

We need a late-night Howard Beale, but without the Chayefsky ending.

(yes yes we've already gone way past what was once unthinkable dystopian future-terror blah blah)
posted by tzikeh at 1:03 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


Complaining that the comedy on late-night talkshows is hackneyed is like complaining that the acting on daytime soap operas isn't very convincing. People aren't tuning into to either to see excellence, they're tuning in to see something familiar that they don't have to pay too much attention to. Late-night talkshows are filled with hackneyed, formulaic political comedy because they've historically focused on hackneyed, formulaic comedy.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:07 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


This seems right. The lame humor is not a response proportionate to the threats of the time.

I'm recalling Oliver, who some point out is often better than the others of his ilk, having the highlight of one show in the run-up of the 2016 election about the revelation that Trump's family name was originally Drumpf. I think it ended with a song-and-dance routine about how ridiculous the Drumpf name sounded.

So, yes, part of Trump's mystique may have come from the way his name implies one-upsmanship in card games, and he's all about one-upsmanship (consistent branding!) (And even casinos!) But wasn't that weak sauce? And still people will call him Drumpf, which is fine as a signal of offhand disdain of the guy, but...

My mid-80s father watches Maher religiously, and yes Maher can raise a fine dudgeon over Trump, he can get more passionate than Oliver, but my father now feels similarly about Ilhan Omar, unfortunately... The constant need to take down "wokeness", and to resort to both-siderism is an unthinking reflex.
posted by Schmucko at 1:25 PM on April 25 [5 favorites]


(question, did CNN push Trump for future hate watch BREAKING NEWS ratings? No really, legit question)

I know someone who sincerely believes so. The election was looking like it would be boring and Clinton would win, so when Comey made his not-at-all-newsworthy announcement about opening the emails investigation, the media jumped all over it like someone dropped steak in front of a labrador retriever.

The media have a lot to answer for.
posted by jb at 1:30 PM on April 25 [4 favorites]


Quite honestly, I think the best thing the late-night talkers could do, if they really want to get under Trump’s skin, is to stop talking about him completely. No jokes. No little quips. Not even so much as a reference to anything he’s done. Completely exorcise Trump from the shows.

The guy basks in the attention, good or bad. As long as they say his name, it’s all good to him. But, not mentioning him at all? That would be tweetstorm time.

Of course, they key part would be for the shows to not make a deal about it. Not announce that they’re going to stop talking about Trump. To announce it would be a victory for him. Just...stop talking about the guy. Go silent.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:37 PM on April 25 [13 favorites]


I need to say this: John Oliver is an unfunny person with very good writers. I can watch his program only because his subject material is interesting, treating him as a conduit to good writing. His mugging is only to the detriment of his material.

I listened to Andy Zaltzman and Oliver for years on the Bugle podcast, where they had no writers and he often literally was just phoning into the studio from wherever he was. Oliver is very a good writer and improv-er.
posted by jb at 1:38 PM on April 25 [15 favorites]


prize bull octorok, is it just me or have you gotten more sarcastic over the last couple of months?

I like it.
posted by biogeo at 1:44 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


Of course, they key part would be for the shows to not make a deal about it. Not announce that they’re going to stop talking about Trump. To announce it would be a victory for him. Just...stop talking about the guy. Go silent.

Yah, that's about as likely to happen as people heeding the admonition "don't feed the troll."
posted by O Sock My Sock at 1:45 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


I agree, jb, anybody who thinks Oliver is unfunny hasn't listened to the Bugle.
posted by Pendragon at 1:53 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


I also don't see this type of comedy making much of a difference. Yes it calls out assholes and acknowledges that "none of this is normal" and we need to keep saying that. THIS IS NOT NORMAL. But it also just further entrenches people in ideology that they've already decided upon.

This is also a tired point but - part of the issue is that Trump isn't really an exceptional occurance. His personal incompetence is exceptional, but his ascension is the culmination of a phenomenon that starts with Rush Limbaugh and Fox News or maybe with the John Birch Society or fuck who even knows. And the reason it's hard to pick out a real starting point for the movement is that it's built on top of underlying structures of oppression and exploitation that are older than living memory. Any political commentary that is unable to address that on any level just seems anemic.
posted by atoxyl at 1:59 PM on April 25 [5 favorites]


You can also file me under the category of "likes John Oliver's (comparatively) deep dive approach but thinks a lot of the actual jokes he delivers on the show are pretty underwhelming."
posted by atoxyl at 2:01 PM on April 25 [12 favorites]


I miss Charles Nelson Reilly.
posted by parki at 2:05 PM on April 25 [9 favorites]


just imagine a late night talk show where the host is so angry he cries and yells and then calms down a bit to tell you how to register to vote and look up your local polling place

Jimmy Kimmel did that about healthcare and his child who had surgery and how unfair it was that some people couldn't afford life-saving surgery for their kids. I think he may actually have cried a bit during it. It was amazing and leadership at the hospital where I work was sharing it with staff. I think it might have actually had a bit of an effect.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:11 PM on April 25 [15 favorites]


If we're talking about the cynical white comedy guys who write these shows, it's worth pointing out that everyone, literally, no-fooling, every single person in the media industry has a Twitter account and most of them actually use it. Some of them stick to just the corporate brand account, but anyone who doesn't have a brand manager, everyone below that level, everyone who holds a camera, everyone who applies makeup, everyone, everyone has a Twitter account. Especially the writers. And they all follow each other out of professional courtesy.

In the overall US population there are 69 mil Twitter users, or ~20%.

I don't know what that means, I don't want to go into "internet rots your brains" territory although I think overuse of Twitter does, like. Maybe rot your brains. But if you want to talk about subtle and unsubtle things that shape their lives and their view of the world. That one is particularly invisible and very important.

The industry itself also demands an incredibly fast pace that really works against substantive thought. Oliver's episodes get weeks of pure reporting pumped into them - that's what makes his show unique, and it's wild, and they can only do it because of the schedule and the HBO budget. Everywhere else I can guarantee you that nothing you see took more than a few days total. TDS and Full Frontal do some field pieces that get close to actual reporting, but each one looks like less than a week of production, as a rule.*

*This is a well educated guess, I haven't worked on those shows, but I've worked adjacent to the industry, so I'm eyeballing, based on experience, like, it looks like two-three days of location, you get the drift. not actual factual knowledge.

The gist of what you're all saying seems to be something like, "They don't seem to get that this is real." You're right. They don't. And I think that has to do with Twitter and the industry structure in general. Everything is important for about 30 seconds, and nothing is real.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 2:50 PM on April 25 [9 favorites]


if they really want to get under [redacted]’s skin, is to stop talking about him completely. No jokes. No little quips. Not even so much as a reference to anything he’s done. Completely exorcise [redacted] from the shows.

The guy basks in the attention, good or bad. As long as they say his name, it’s all good to him.


If your goal is to get under his skin you're still putting him in the center, letting him influence what you think and say and do.

How have we allowed toxic waste to take center stage, not only in politics, but in every aspect of our lives?

Maybe he's not the root cause of our existential crisis. Maybe he's just a symptom of a much larger and more debilitating disease.
posted by ascii at 2:58 PM on April 25 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: You may just have to accept that sometimes not everything is for you
posted by zaixfeep at 3:03 PM on April 25 [4 favorites]


I find the fact that no comedian has yet suggested that Americans chip in to buy that dangerous cassowary bird and donate it to our Senate majority leader, and Emperor Tod Spengo remains woefully obscure and unused as a satirical POTUS mascot, to be a scorching indictment of the state of modern late-night comedy. (Light grenades for every writer's room, stat!)

As the ratio of viewers to comedy shows continues to plummet toward 1:1, I'm fully expecting to find channel after chanel of nothing but slackers holding up pictures of POTUS and yelling "What a dick, amirite?"
posted by zaixfeep at 3:31 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Wait...Hitchens was a serious guy with a serious point of view in the Iraq invasion?....FUCK OFF!
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:58 PM on April 25


How do we make this better? Robin Thede, Ashley Nicole Black, Samatha Bee, Charlotte Clymer...give them your attention rather than out-of-touch old white guys--they are out there calling out the hypocrisy with humor and intelligence.
posted by agatha_magatha at 4:00 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


On the suggestion front: I'm glad that Wyatt Cenac's Problem Areas got enough eyeballs to get a second season. Format is roughly similar to Last Week Tonight, but Wyatt uses the back half of each episode to explore different aspects of a single topic. It was policing for s1, and this season is about schools.

His delivery is not the SHOUTY SHOUT SHOUT that so many other hosts use, and it keeps me tuned in even when actual news has me too tired/dispirited to find jokes about current events 'funny'.
posted by FallibleHuman at 4:44 PM on April 25 [6 favorites]


I miss Space Ghost.
posted by lorddimwit at 5:20 PM on April 25 [17 favorites]


If we're talking about the cynical white comedy guys who write these shows, it's worth pointing out that everyone, literally, no-fooling, every single person in the media industry has a Twitter account and most of them actually use it.

Worth noting that Andy Richter's twitter is about as woke as you could possibly expect from a white guy in his 50s. Infinitely more pointed than the show is.
posted by praemunire at 5:30 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


I concur with the theme of TFA.

Late night TV talk shows are irrelevant dinosaurs (no disrespect to venerable reptiles, maybe irrelevant zombies is a better description) and have been for a long time, ever since I was young and witnessed boring twilight of the Johnny Carson era.

Jon Stewart was a unique anomaly that exploded because the functionality of mainstream American news media had virtually collapsed in the George W post 9/11 era.

John Oliver is like an annoying friend who says things that you agree with, but mugs & splutters & gesticulates, and is annoying.
posted by ovvl at 5:56 PM on April 25 [4 favorites]


unless there's some steer who's a YouTube sensation I don't know about or something


Does Twitter count?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:00 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


John Oliver is like an annoying friend who says things that you agree with, but mugs & splutters & gesticulates, and is annoying.
posted by ovvl


Hey! That's me! (Gesticulates wildly) Except for the 'agree with' part.
posted by zaixfeep at 6:29 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


I always wonder if Oliver hurts his hands pounding on the big acrylic desk like that.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:35 PM on April 25


Satire is a tricky beast, in that it only "works" when it manages to explain its subject better than reality does. The most successful bit of satire in recent memory (in the US) was probably Tina Fey's impression of Sarah Palin. Palin never said that most famous line of hers, but her later gaffes served to confirm her as the sort of person who could claim that she had foreign policy experience because she could see Russia from her house. Colbert's been close with a few of his bits - "truthiness" and the line "reality has a well-known liberal bias" but the people they're supposed to be describing weren't boxed in by those insights, for the same reason that late-night hosts aren't able to craft that one devastating putdown that would really put Trump in his place.

Satire doesn't work on Trump because the satirical explanation for Trump's behaviour - he's a racist fuckwit - is also the one most people had before he even announced his candidacy. About the only people who aren't entirely upfront about why they're awful are Democratic senators and Trump voters, and if you're expecting them to actually change their behaviour, you can't really satirise the public.
posted by Merus at 7:04 PM on April 25 [5 favorites]


In the YouTube ecosystem where I dwell, there are a ton of 35-40 year-old white guys who fall somewhere in the Bernie Bro/Alt-right lite spectrum. They're people like The Amazing Atheist, edgelords and shock bros who hate "political correctness," think that Ghostbusters is the best movie ever, and worship Louis CK as a "truth-teller."

There's a strange paradox at work with their mindset. On the one hand, they always want to be shocking and really shake things up, offend people, and mimic their heroes like George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, and Bill Hicks. (They love the images of themselves smoking cigarettes in front of manual typewriters, as if they are Hunter S. Thompson reborn?)

The problem is, this sort of thing falls flat because the old, repressed, white Christian America whose sensibilities were once offended... no longer exists. Satire feeds on piousness, or at least the pretense of piousness. And that's gone. The middle-class white folk who are afraid that their children will be damaged by heavy metal music? Extinct. The middle-class white folk who would be outraged at a politician cheating on their wife? Extinct.

The Baby Boomers of yore are extinct. They're now angry, Trump-worshiping senior citizens who welcome the idea of a race war, and like to pass around misogynist filth from MRA websites.

I work with many of these people. They're not shocked by satire or impoliteness. They're openly yearning for a mass genocide on the border and expelling all Muslims. I have one coworker in particular, a guy named Dan -- during one single day last week, I heard him declare that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should be publicly executed, America needs to start bombing Muslim countries again -- any one will do -- while also fantasizing about acquiring a male-order bride who was "raised like an animal, so she could be trained properly." And he's not joking about any of it, because he has no sense of humor.

You can't shock or offend these people.

The paradox is that the YouTube edgelords mistakenly think that "America is too safe, too PC now," and say "I miss the days when satire was sharp and shocking." Their schtick is flailing because in some vital way, they NEED the old, square America back. They need someone to get offended, and the only way to achieve that is to punch down at the vulnerable. But what they really want is to go back to the days when Larry Flynt could publish a satirical ad in Hustler about Jerry Falwell losing his virginity to his mother in an outhouse, and have it genuinely offend people and lead to a Supreme Court case on the limits of free speech.

There are no limits anymore. You could write the same thing about Franklin Graham or Mike Pence, publish it online, and no one would bat an eye. No one would get offended.

You can't offend Trumpers. It's like trying to satirize a toxic waste spill. A toxic waste spill doesn't care if you have a clever take on it. It just is.
posted by Chronorin at 7:39 PM on April 25 [62 favorites]


They need someone to get offended, and the only way to achieve that is to punch down at the vulnerable.

your whole comment, but especially that bit, is so directly on point. excellent observations. (this could be called the bill maher phenomenon, though he is much older than the white male 35-40 yr olds you rightly focus on, and that i am talking about here too.)

you're right that this type of person so badly wants to poke the eye of authority, except they dont realize THEY are the authority, they are the adults now, yet refuse to take on the responsibility that entails. and by that i mean organizing into a politically coherent bloc the way previous generations did and actually making their priorities into policy. voting in high numbers, for starters.

when citizens like this come of age but abdicate political power and never grow up beyond childish name calling and "satire," they naturally gravitate toward punching down because punching up is just too damn much work. better to just shitpost online.
posted by wibari at 8:20 PM on April 25 [9 favorites]


We need puppets.

Angry puppets with sardonic wit and counter-cultural humor and fact-checking and reliable sources and swear words and guns.

Send the check to my usual address, I'll be in the bar.
posted by delfin at 8:33 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


Does nobody remember how garbage Leno was
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:41 PM on April 25 [10 favorites]


See also: The Onion in the age of social media.

I think they have some pretty good stuff, and they can be biting. I found myself laughing way too hard at the recent headline/image: 9 ft. tall Bernie Sanders greets crowd after session with posture coach.

And Clickhole (and Patriothole!) are pretty great.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:50 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Worth noting that Andy Richter's twitter is about as woke as you could possibly expect from a white guy in his 50s. Infinitely more pointed than the show is.

I generally make a point of not following celebrities or comedians on Twitter, but Andy Richter is the sole exception. He has not disappointed me yet.
posted by neckro23 at 8:52 PM on April 25


I work with many of these people. They're not shocked by satire or impoliteness. They're openly yearning for a mass genocide on the border and expelling all Muslims. I have one coworker in particular, a guy named Dan -- during one single day last week, I heard him declare that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should be publicly executed, America needs to start bombing Muslim countries again -- any one will do -- while also fantasizing about acquiring a male-order bride who was "raised like an animal, so she could be trained properly." And he's not joking about any of it, because he has no sense of humor.

Um, so how does most of that not constitute "creating a hostile work environment"? I mean, content aside, I'd be worried that this guy would come in one day with a bag of guns and start shooting up the place. I don't want to tell you your business, and I am not a lawyer, and I don't know what kind of workplace you're in, but that shit needs to be reported.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:54 PM on April 25 [15 favorites]


I ate his fucking gross ice cream a couple times...

Whoa hey, say what you will about late-night hosts, but I will not have the deliciousness of Ben & Jerry's Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream besmirched on my watch. It's pretty much the only B&J's flavor I actually like out of the ones I've sampled.
posted by Wandering Idiot at 8:57 PM on April 25 [4 favorites]


"It’s the book you’d write if you had a $1.1 million dollar apartment in Gramercy Park and were given to saying things like, “In 2016, I needed to take my mind off the election ( . . . ) and I find that the way the second hand glides across the dial on a non-quartz watch calms me down.” It’s a book about manners, not structures; classiness, not class. " The Disappointing Trump Novel
posted by The Whelk at 9:17 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Anyway, satire is for in-group communication. It doesn't convert or make inroads. That requires material analysis on the intersecting levels of class, race, gender, etc

And that requires effort.
posted by The Whelk at 9:18 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


I think they have some pretty good stuff, and they can be biting.

Yeah I think they're actually doing alright, all things considered - because they've been willing to really go in on political figures and institutions.
posted by atoxyl at 9:26 PM on April 25


The Onion have, uniquely, had the privilege of several of their bits become indistinguishable from reality, which is the sort of thing that makes a humour publication decide they were clearly not going hard enough.
posted by Merus at 10:14 PM on April 25 [4 favorites]


Not sure why the Onion is getting shade here, they’ve been extremely on point and actually funny again since they unionised, even putting aside their wonderfully absurdist turn with Clickhole. It’s not like they’re more politically significant than any of the examples in the article but they do have the virtue of being humourous.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 10:57 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


The Onion responded to all of its satire just becoming real by going darker and absurd, which is not something you can expect what are basically babysitting shows to do. their Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over and This War Will Destabilize The Entire Mideast Region And Set Off A Global Shockwave Of Anti-Americanism vs. No It Won’t is as on target and cutting into the national Id as Admit It: You People Want To See How Far This Goes, Don’t You? or Diplomatic Pete Buttigieg Quickly Changes Subject From Politics At Town Hall To Avoid Arguments
posted by The Whelk at 11:27 PM on April 25 [12 favorites]


Metafilter: You may just have to accept that sometimes not everything is for you

Yeah... that's not going to happen.

The arch-satirist Peter Cook famously said he modelled his Establishment Club on "those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War", and I'm often reminded of that in recent times. Another satirical enterprise he supported was the then-fledgling magazine Private Eye, which to this day produces fortnightly a fund of incredibly valuable investigative reporting all wrapped up in comedy that is doubtless very clever but which never makes me laugh, really. The Eye's editor is most famous for appearing on Have I Got News For You, which is supposed to be satirical but which was largely responsible for the irresistible rises of both Alexander Pfeffel "Boris" Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. I do find myself watching it and enjoy it more now they book fewer guest hosts who combine narcissistic preening with the comedy timing of an HB pencil, but it exists largely as a (supposedly critical-of-the-government) fig-leaf for a BBC which has to balance notions of impartiality with the fact that its news output has for some time been run by people who otherwise made careers out of being far-right propagandists.

(The News Quiz on Radio 4 is a lot funnier and sharper, though its scheduling seems to work on the assumption that the news only happens four times a years in six week bursts.)

I'd recommend the Eye's intermittent podcast - Page 94 - a handful of episodes a year about the people who do the really useful stuff. I've been meaning to FPP it over the last few years, and have failed every time, so there's an opportunity for someone.

As for the actual subject of the post... I enjoy watching most of these people to varying degrees - I find Colbert's schtick in particular quite pleasing in itself. Avoiding the news, especially U.S. news, I watch the clips on YouTube at the weekend to catch up on events in the US, which they can do palatably (though if one were shown a random bit from the last couple of years, how often could one really place it in time?) However, I find Rachel Maddow both more informative (unsurprisingly) and (strangely) more entertaining.
posted by Grangousier at 1:09 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


I like John Oliver mainly because he puts his money where his mouth is - for instance, buying and forgiving medical debt or fundraising for various causes through silly stunts. I don't know if the other shows do them, and there have been some bits of his that I've been all "urggghhhh" about, but he stands out.

I feel like the sort of biting political satire comedy y'all want are more likely gonna be on YouTube, or in some kind of queer/PoC/other minority festival, than on mainstream TV.
posted by divabat at 1:23 AM on April 26 [4 favorites]


Jon Stewart was a unique anomaly that exploded because the functionality of mainstream American news media had virtually collapsed in the George W post 9/11 era.
This is so true. I think the author is expecting something that only existed for a brief moment. Remember Jon Stewart killing Crossfire? That was beyond comedy, even though it came out of comedy.

And also:
You can't offend Trumpers. It's like trying to satirize a toxic waste spill. A toxic waste spill doesn't care if you have a clever take on it. It just is.
posted by Chronorin at 7:39 PM on April 25 [15 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]

Chornorin's whole comment is so to the point. Apart from Stewart not being on air anymore, the times have changed to the preposterous and beyond satire.
posted by mumimor at 1:24 AM on April 26 [6 favorites]


Remember Jon Stewart killing Crossfire? That was beyond comedy, even though it came out of comedy.

That;s just the thing though, for as right as Stewart was about Crossfire and its ilk, he didn't seem to see the Daily Show's place in the media landscape as it was changing all that clearly. When you provide people entertaining, funny, news at some point it isn't just going to be an additional source of information for many people, but the more desirable primary source because it has laughs. If it draws viewers for that, then its taking viewers from other news sources that will want to compete by becoming "more fun" themselves. Since that particular brand of fun, which the Daily Show absolutely didn't create, is partisan it furthers the separation of viewers that Stewart was complaining about. His belief that being on Comedy Central somehow isolated him being serious news in the manner he wanted other shows to be was flawed.

I don't blame Stewart or the show for this exactly since it started before the show came on the air, but as feeding into the same trend we've ended up in the era of "news" as smug condescension on cable/internet matched to major networks/papers that still hold to some vague notion of objective and impartial seeming even weaker than they so often are for not taking a more extreme tone.

I watch the morning news each day at work and while there clearly is a lot of immoderate moderation in seeking to cover "both sides" they do still manage to mention when Trump isn't being truthful, though without calling it lying. That would have had some real effect in the old era of media, but now it's nothing since we've gone far past the point where people care about suggestion, loud declamation of belief is the standard. That may have been inevitable post Reagan and Limbaugh, but it's no less a problem for that in how it shapes the reception of the news.

While it may feel good to hear things said plainly from a perspective one agrees with combating Trumpism, the importance of being "entertaining" is also how we end up with Trumps and their disregard for established norms in the first place. Some of those norms were long since corrupted and needed repair, which may happen with the more vocal reporting of the morality of events, but that only happens if the good guys win and the media and political landscape doesn't particularly lean in their favor, so the same path can lead to worse as well as better.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:13 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Because of this article I watched a couple of late night shows, which I haven't for a while because on some level I agree with the author. And then I saw this. It's funny and it is also very informative. Great for sending to racist uncles.
posted by mumimor at 4:05 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


The problem with sending that clip to racist uncles is that they're going to hit that bit of "artistic license" towards the beginning and stop watching, writing it off as "typical libtards making fun of the President".

And they'd be right. Because it is exactly the kind of humor this article is arguing against.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:14 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


OK, my racist uncle would love that first part, and that would drag him in. Each to his own, I suppose.
posted by mumimor at 4:19 AM on April 26


Saxon Kane,

I know. It's just that I work in a very blue collar environment, and there are far more trumpers there than liberals. I'm hopelessly outnumbered. I work the night shift where we have the luxury of not being supervised, but the price of that perk is that nobody higher up wants to hear about any sort of personality conflict.

At this point in my life, I've never worked in a workplace that was filled with other liberals. I'm not even sure what that would be like.

As horribly offensive as Dan's views are, he is also kind of an unfortunate old fellow.

The person I worry about there is a fairly apolitical guy who loathes Trump... if anyone was ever going to turn violent, it's him. Not for any political reason, but simply because he's legitimately disturbed.

Tennessee, my friends. Tennessee.
posted by Chronorin at 4:32 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


I grew up watching Johnny Carson, was a fan of Letterman in the 80s and 90s, and at this point, it's probably been 15 years since I intentionally tuned into a late-night comedy show. (I'll watch clips of Sam Bee and John Oliver on YouTube, but have never seen either show as it's actually being cablecast.)

Fallon and Kimmel are completely unwatchable, and while Seth Meyers and Colbert may get a few salient jabs in from time to time, nothing else about their shows holds any interest for me.

Also, Craig Kilborn was the worst. Never understood how that guy got a job in network TV, or how he held on to it for so long. His talents seemed much better suited to one of those dumb "Morning Zoo" radio programs. Glad to see he has faded into well-deserved obscurity.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 5:47 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Hard to imagine a comedy bit more tedious than an article scolding late-night hosts for making fun of politicians.
posted by Happy Monkey at 7:04 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


I like John Oliver and even saw a very funny standup show of his but I also think he and his team and especially his fans put a ton of emotional importance on all the “John Oliver totally DESTROYS the Orange Cheeto Hitler!” Bits during the run-up to the election and there was this total shell shock in the aftermath. Like “but all our jokes? All our epic ownage? It didn’t do anything?” And I still get that sensation from a lot of more liberal folks, that they just can’t believe their epic riffs like calling him “Drumpf” over and over again still don’t seem to be working. And it seems like that was their entire plan/strategy and they still can’t figure out what else to do.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:55 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


I like John Oliver and even saw a very funny standup show of his but I also think he and his team and especially his fans put a ton of emotional importance on all the “John Oliver totally DESTROYS the Orange Cheeto Hitler!”

There's a recurring bit on Last Week Tonight where they run a clip of Trump admitting to crimes, then Oliver hits a button to fire off confetti and drop balloons, saying "WE GOT HIM! WE GOT HIM!... What's that? We didn't get him? Nothing matters? Oh well. Moving on...".

He knows.
posted by Etrigan at 8:07 AM on April 26 [12 favorites]


There's a recurring bit on Last Week Tonight where they run a clip of Trump admitting to crimes, then Oliver hits a button to fire off confetti and drop balloons, saying "WE GOT HIM! WE GOT HIM!... What's that? We didn't get him? Nothing matters? Oh well. Moving on...".

He knows.


This issue one of the main points of this article; not necessarily that "he knows," but specifically that "he knows but is nevertheless doing the same damn thing".

Instead of the followup to "what's that? We didn't get him?" being "Nothing matters? oh well, moving on", the article is calling for the followup to "what's that? we didn't get him?" should be "well, hell, let's try a different approach to getting him that's not the same-old thing that didn't work before."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:36 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


[This needs to not become a general political philosophy thread, please. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:49 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Really, the problem is catharsis. This brand of political comedy provides it, but it hasn't been earned.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:56 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


for as right as Stewart was about Crossfire and its ilk, he didn't seem to see the Daily Show's place in the media landscape as it was changing all that clearly.

A. in these accelerated times, I question whether anyone can see the media landscape clearly in real time.

B. I watched a lot of Stewart back in the Zero-Decade and seem to recall him constantly pointing out (and making fun of) the fact that the popularity and importance of his show was absurd -- that it seemed to say way more about just how dumb mainstream media had become than any great genius on his part.
posted by philip-random at 9:00 AM on April 26 [6 favorites]


the comedy timing of an HB pencil

Hey, now! When people start insulting hard-working pencils, that's where I draw the line!
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:33 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


You can't offend Trumpers.

Bernie just said prisoners should have the right to vote and it gave these people a collective aneurysm You can offend Trumpers but not with middle of the road Liberalism. Just demonstrate actual, genuine principles.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:45 AM on April 26 [7 favorites]


I don't mind the formulaic jokes that much. They all tend to do a good job soothing the daily wounds of living in this country and often shed light on small, important aspects of stories that get lost in the fire-hose that is political media. The worst thing I can say for them is that they sometimes make it feel like we might be winning when we're not. But CNN and MSNBC are just as guilty of that, huh?

Also, Amber Ruffin is a national treasure! And Dan O'Brien is now writing for John Oliver. And Colbert's band is the mother fucking best*. So it's nice to see that these shows are lifting up young talent.

*I mean, I know they're not actually The Roots, but I always felt like that was kinda cheating. Like if Leno had had Sinbad for his crowd warm up every night.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:00 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


This is so true. I think the author is expecting something that only existed for a brief moment. Remember Jon Stewart killing Crossfire? That was beyond comedy, even though it came out of comedy.

What actually got killed there, though? Tucker Carlson is probably an order of magnitude more influential in 2019 than he was in 2004 and has, if anything, gotten worse in the subsequent 15 years. They even brought back Crossfire for a little bit a few years ago, and I'd say the spirit of the show is still very much with us as far as fake debates passing as TV news content. The only thing that actually got killed as far as I can tell was Paul Begala's career, which I have a hard time getting excited about as any kind of victory since he was replaced with identical guys with identical politics.
posted by Copronymus at 10:01 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


Yeah, all that did was make Carlson more of a punching bag for liberals, but he's probably the most popular white supremacist in the US now (aside from POTUS, of course).
posted by Burhanistan at 10:08 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Chronorin, isn't the point that WE'RE the pious now? That the left, and especially the young left, is the block to offend? You could set that as punching down, but that's always a vague concept. Comedians in the 80s and 90s punched down at poor white folks with impunity. I'm not saying they didn't have valid points to make about willful ignorance and general fecklessness, but it often broke over into basic mean-spiritedness. And it was funny. I love a good Bill Hicks screed cursing his own southern roots. But poor white rural folks aren't necessarily a more ridiculous group of people than poor young liberals.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:15 AM on April 26 [4 favorites]


At this point in my life, I've never worked in a workplace that was filled with other liberals. I'm not even sure what that would be like.

Well, generally not as bad as your place, but yeah, not a paradise either.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:31 AM on April 26


That the left, and especially the young left, is the block to offend?

...

It's not "the left," generically, that they're really seeking to hurt.
posted by praemunire at 11:02 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


(Also, props to Samantha Bee’s takedown piece for showing me that Tucker Carlson is an anagram for Ol Cracker Nuts.)
posted by Burhanistan at 11:49 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


Tucker was resurrected along with a lot of these zombies from the 90s because our president is an older man who is fixated on the party media thought leaders/provocateurs of another era and Fox's harassment scandals cleared out their prime time lineup - post Crossfire until very recently he was mostly a pop culture trivia answer.
posted by Selena777 at 5:30 PM on April 26 [2 favorites]


"Chronorin, isn't the point that WE'RE the pious now? That the left, and especially the young left, is the block to offend?"

Yes. That's a problem for the Bernie Bro edgelords because there's only so much mileage you can get out of screaming at a 17 year-old trans kid who cries on YouTube. It doesn't make you look tough, and it won't add your name to the ranks of some counterculture movement that will be remembered as historically significant -- which is what they seem to want. To matter.

(I'm fairly certain there were young "anti-hippies" in the '60s who made it a point to trash the hippies and declare them all losers and weirdos, but if there were, who remembers them? People remember the hippies, not them. )

That, and the kids seem to tune most of it out. The Amazing Atheist and the other 35 year-old "provocateurs" in my age group are in a weird place right now. We still kind of think of ourselves as eternally youthful rebels who will never grow up and join the ranks of normal society like our parents. We'll be playing videogames and listening to Eminem and smoking weed forever! But time doesn't stop grinding on, and my generation of people who fondly remember Nirvana, Snoop Dogg, and Lollapalooza are just now starting to sound.... old. I'll see Youtube vids where my peers are screaming about how music used to be better, how movies in the '80s were better, and how everything was better before "the snowflakes" came along, and I think... oh god, we're now that guy in 1987 screaming about how he hates New Wave/Michael Jackson/hair metal, and that kids ought to be listening to real music like Three Dog Night and Grand Funk Railroad.

We didn't think that guy was cool. Now WE are that guy.
posted by Chronorin at 7:33 PM on April 26 [6 favorites]


People remember the hippies

As alluded to above....Plenty of those hippies are also the very same FYGM boomers that lots of people rail against.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:09 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Also, I would argue that people remember hippies, yes, but they remember them the way their detractors have painted them. Being remembered wasn't even the goal of the "anti-hippies" or the establishment or whatever the correct term might be here. Getting to define their opponents in the eyes of the world was.
posted by Ashenmote at 11:18 PM on April 26 [2 favorites]


the whole notion of Hippie was tarnished as early as 1967, the year that most of the world first even heard the word. In fact, by October of that year, the Hippie was already dead.
posted by philip-random at 8:15 AM on April 27 [1 favorite]


I mean, John Oliver is funny, but that show is also incredibly depressing (there's no real way for it not to be), so I'm not sure that proves the Mel piece's thesis.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 10:07 AM on April 27 [1 favorite]


>>I'm recalling Oliver, who some point out is often better than the others of his ilk, having the highlight of one show in the run-up of the 2016 election about the revelation that Trump's family name was originally Drumpf. [...] But wasn't that weak sauce?

>And I still get that sensation from a lot of more liberal folks, that they just can’t believe their epic riffs like calling him “Drumpf” over and over again still don’t seem to be working.


Context is a thing.

Oliver brought up the whole Drumpf thing only as a pointed response to the specific issue of this Trump tweet criticizing Jon Stewart’s legitimacy (whatever the hell that means) for having changed his name. That’s it.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:21 PM on April 27 [7 favorites]


Trump is hard to satirize, so instead many comedy writers and comics fall back on broad farcical humor and bad impressions. The only good Trump impression imo since 2015 is Anthony Atamanuik's, recently of The President Show. He says his goal is to be as brutally honest as possible about who Trump is, instead of simply goofing on him like he's a harmless clown. This sketch about Trump's life if he hadn't been born rich is an excellent example.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:06 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


I don't mind the formulaic jokes that much [...] The worst thing I can say for them is that they sometimes make it feel like we might be winning when we're not. But CNN and MSNBC are just as guilty of that, huh?

I suppose I enjoy a good Trump gag as much as anyone (laugh at the devil and all that), but as for meaningful political effect, I think this NYT piece (published at the time of his election) is still way too relevant:

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.
posted by philip-random at 8:00 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


Oliver brought up the whole Drumpf thing only as a pointed response to the specific issue of this Trump tweet criticizing Jon Stewart’s legitimacy (whatever the hell that means) for having changed his name.

Somebody should have told that the all the people in the uspolitics threads who thought using it instead of his legal name was some kind of hilarious ownage.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:36 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Quite honestly, I think the best thing the late-night talkers could do, if they really want to get under Trump’s skin, is to stop talking about him completely. No jokes. No little quips. Not even so much as a reference to anything he’s done. Completely exorcise Trump from the shows.

The guy basks in the attention, good or bad.


Every once in a while I remember Jon Stewart celebrating Trump's campaign announcement and I get a chill down my spine. It seemed so absurd back then.
posted by Gordafarin at 2:49 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


« Older Keys to Lovely Piano Music   |   It was a total accident Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments