TV Features

Welcome to Guerilla Late Night: What's So Funny?

Filming segments on iPhones, conducting interviews through video chats, and forced to recruit their spouses and children as their lighting and camera operators, this is the age of guerillla late night.

Late night talk show hosts are a strange cohort.

They're invited into our living rooms every week night, like filthy rich close family friends. but if they don't entertain us we get to mute, cancel, or tweet mean things at them at no personal cost. But with regular filming schedules interrupted by current events, late night hosts have been forced to continue their torrid relationship with the American public from their own homes. Filming segments on iPhones, conducting interviews through video chats, and forced to recruit their spouses and children as their lighting and camera operators, this is the age of guerillla late night.

So is it funny?

Honestly, when was the last time any talk show was genuinely funny? In fact, why do we still tune into late night talk shows? For sardonic wit and mockery of public figures, we have Twitter. For average-looking middle-aged men in suits droning into microphones, we have Congress. For celebrities making fools of themselves, we have Instagram.

But why, then, did it feel so disruptive when the regular slog of late night talk shows came to a halt in mid-March? As TIME's Judy Berman wrote, losing the late night personalities felt "especially bleak," because "if news programs help us understand what's happening in the world around us, then it's talk shows that often aid us in processing that information." Without them, we're left with the average daily frenzy of bad news and angry talking heads, offering "neither perspective nor catharsis."

But late night wasn't dead; it took to YouTube, and it changed focus to reflect American experience and identity more than ever.

If there's a still-beating heart to American talk shows, then the current crisis has brought it to light: empathy.

Late night hosts aren't just inviting the public into their homes (and, if you're Stephen Colbert, your bathtub); they're also sharing their family dynamics. Jimmy Fallon has taken to allowing his daughters, Winnie and Frances, to steal the show. "For us, these shows have been about the presenting idea that we're all going through this together," said Gavin Purcell, an executive producer for The Tonight Show. "People are adjusting to working from home, and what is it like to be stuck there? People have let Jimmy into their homes forever, and he thought it might be cool to let them into his home."

Similarly, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah said, "We're in a weird space...It feels like the end of the world, and it's not, but we also cannot treat it like nothing is happening. So we do have to find that balance." Accordingly, this week marks the return of many programs to their normal time slots. The New York Times noted, "Now that their shows are up and running, the people behind them say their continuing challenge is to provide viewers—for whom television has become one of a few remaining outlets for information and fresh entertainment—with a sense of comfort and continuity while commenting on events that have turned increasingly dire."

While we make take comfort from seeing familiar late night hosts also taking drastic steps to follow social distancing rules and staying self-quarantined, we all need reminders about our safety now and then. So in addition to using their time slots to show that we're all in this together, some hosts are making sure to spread vital information. Last month, Trevor Noah was commended (and viewed over 10 million times) for his frank and straightforward interview with the director of the National institute of Allergy and infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.

More recently, delivering a similar safety message with his unique flair, Samuel L. Jackson used his video chat with Jimmy Kimmel to share a helpful clip of his dramatic reading on how to stay safe. For Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jackson read a new poem by Adam Mansbach, author of the bestseller Go the F**k to Sleep, called: "Stay the F**k At Home."

Samuel L. Jackson Says Stay the F**k at Home youtu.be

Music Reviews

Hear Fritz Hutchison's New Album "Wild Wild Acres"

Watch Fritz perform at 3PM on Popdust's livestream on Saturday, May 30th.

Fritz Hutchison just released his debut album, Wild Wild Acres.

It's the kind of album that will make you want to lounge in a hammock all day or ride a horse across the country or just drop everything and howl at the moon—it sounds like that kind of freedom. Hutchison is alternatively blunt and sincere, a trickster with a performative flair and a penchant for sunny hooks.

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FILM

Will the Coronavirus Finally Settle the Streaming Movies vs. Theater Debate?

With COVID-19 now a full-blown pandemic, industries are struggling to adjust, but the film and TV industry may never be the same

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Less than a year ago, at the 2019 Cinemacon in Las Vegas, Oscar Winner Helen Mirren shared her opinion on streaming movies in no uncertain terms: "I love Netflix, but f*ck Netflix!"

The comment came amid controversy over the criteria by which a film qualifies for consideration for the Academy Awards and other major accolades. At the time, Netflix and other streaming platforms were pushing for their original productions to be included for consideration without the need for traditional theatrical releases, and many in the industry balked at the prospect. Yesterday, Regal and AMC—the largest cinema chains in the US—both announced that they will be closing all their theatres starting today. Together, the two companies operate nearly 50% of theater screens in the US. Other chains have restricted theater crowds, and more closures are certain to follow.

With no clear end in sight for the coronavirus pandemic, there is an open question about how the movie and television industries will cope. While social distancing is creating increased demand for streaming content, and numerous scheduled releases and production schedules have been delayed indefinitely, will studios be forced to release their existing projects online? Will selection criteria be adjusted for the 2021 award season? And will movie theaters ever recover?

Almost every aspect of our society is in the process of restructuring to adjust to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more people are working from home. Entire regions are shutting down their restaurants and bars. And citizens and politicians alike are calling for measures that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago—on the left, many people are pushing for freezes on evictions, as well as rent and mortgage payments, and even some Republicans (normally shills for heartless capitalism) are suggesting universal income measures to help people get by. In the short term it's causing unprecedented turmoil in the stock market, but in the long term, some industries are likely to never fully bounce back.

In some of the most dire cases—movie theaters being a prime example—the change has been a long time coming. American theater attendance peaked in 2002 and has been on a slow decline ever since—with audiences increasingly preferring the convenience of television and streaming services. Independent theaters have been hit hardest, with many closing down in recent years. Likewise, brick and mortar retail has been hit hard by the convenience of online shopping—with many local stores and even some major retail chains forced out of business. The restrictions imposed by the coronavirus—the latest guidelines advise against gatherings of more than ten people—are only accelerating the rate of change that was already occurring.

While many industry insiders would decry the loss of the theater experience—the immersive scale and the communal environment—most Americans have gotten used to viewing even epic films on screens smaller than a sheet of paper. While directors like Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan will argue that movies are made to be viewed on the big screen, when your nose is six inches from the action, it hardly feels small. None of this is to say that there won't be something real lost if movie theaters disappear—just that it might be inevitable, and that the coronavirus pandemic has sped up the process. Empty movie theaters may soon join the suburban blight of empty malls and abandoned factories that dot the American landscape. They may go the way of the drive-in.

Abandoned Mall

With the narrow profit margins involved in the theater business, government intervention (as we've already seen with other industries) could help them stay afloat until things return to normal, but the more realistic scenario may be that things never return to normal. While AMC's closure is currently slated to last 6-12 weeks, there is no way of telling how long it will actually last, and it may end up consuming the rest of 2020 and beyond. Will the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Academy open consideration to streaming content and encourage studios to opt for Internet releases in the case of James Bond, Mulan, and others? Or will they cancel next year's award season entirely? Whatever the case, 2020 is looking increasingly likely to be the year that cements the supremacy of the Internet over going outside.

Meanwhile, with Stephen Colbert delivering his Late Show monologue from home (from his bathtub, to be specific), will we see other productions following suit—delivering much-needed entertainment to the isolated masses while limiting the spread of the virus? The term "bottle episode" refers to the trope—particularly common in 90s sitcoms—wherein a small number of characters are trapped together in a confined space. Will we see a resurgence of that concept with an influx of quarantine content? Or will television networks and studios take it to the next level and invest in concepts that allow performers to work remotely from the safety of home, either with animation, or with live-action shows that play with the fact that no one is in the same room (e.g. the episode of Modern Family that took place entirely on FaceTime) If not, TV may also be left behind by the vast array of independent content creators who are more than capable of working with the current conditions.

modern family

Whatever else happens in the coming months—and as much as this all feels like a throwback to a different era—we should all be thankful, for once, that culture has increasingly embraced isolation with streaming and delivery services that prevent the need to leave our homes. We all thought we were just being lazy. It turns out we were training for a pandemic.