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

Culture News

What If Colton Underwood Was Just Asexual?

If asexuality were a more widely known, understood, and validated orientation, would people like Underwood have such a difficult time accepting their lack of interest in sex?


America has had a problem with Colton Underwood's sexuality since he became "the world's most famous virgin" in 2019.

While a reality TV show like The Bachelor is no place to find enlightened social commentary, the series' first virgin lead put the concept of virginity under public scrutiny. What is virginity? Does it even exist? In reality, it's as much a social construct as gender. Still, we seem to agree that women have the right to be as (in)experienced as they want, but if a 25-year-old man (and former pro-football player, no less) is still a virgin, then he must be gay, right?

As Underwood recently told Entertainment Tonight while promoting his new book, The First Time: Finding Myself and Looking for Love on Reality TV, he's been plagued by rumors about his sexuality for years. "Even now, I still battle gay rumors when I'm with Cassie, but that's how it was for me as a young kid in grade school and high school," he said. "I can deal with them now."

Underwood won't sate The Bachelor fans' rabid curiosity over whether or not he gave his virginity to his series' winner, Cassandra Randolph: "Cass and I, for our relationship, have decided we don't want to share that...We sort of just laugh and smile, and move on past it." But he does credit the show for confirming that he's straight. "[The show taught me] that I'm straight and I'm very, very attracted to Cassie [Randolph] and women," he said, "but it would have been OK if it would have been the other way too."

He added, "I think that's the biggest message I have for people. If anybody takes anything from this or is going through this, if I help one young man or one young woman go through something that they're struggling with–to let them know that they're not alone–then I consider the book a huge success."

Specifically, in his book he recounts years of questioning his sexuality because he simply didn't experience the desire to have sex. Even as he entered professional football and said he felt "stuck in a hyper masculine culture," he says, "The struggle for me was like, 'How do I talk about this with anybody?' I didn't." He adds that his confusion was a product of various influences, "between my parents' divorce in college sort of messing me up, between being bullied in grade school and high school and literally Googling, 'Am I gay? Why don't I want to have sex?' and then internalizing it all and sort of moving forward with football–I think it's a mixture of all those," he said.

That struggle is all too common–at least for the 1% of the population who identify as asexual.

Millions of people never experience sexual attraction. That doesn't mean they don't feel romantic attraction, date, marry, or even have sex (after all, a person's sexual behavior doesn't completely define sexual orientation; so asexual people can still have sex in the same way gay people aren't turned straight if they have heterosexual sex).

Is Colton Underwood asexual? That's no one's business but his own; but the fact that fan and media speculation have centered the entire (intrusive) conversation around the gay-straight binary is woefully blinded to the whole spectrum of sexual orientation–not to mention the fact that sexual attraction and romantic attraction are, in fact, separate things. Albeit, it's common to feel them simultaneously, but, just as commonly, people fall into lust rather than love, which is simply experiencing sexual attraction without romantic interest.

To be clear, a person can be asexual and still feel romantically attracted to someone. Alternatively, anyone of any orientation can lack the ability to feel romantic attraction, which just means they're aromantic–and no, being asexual doesn't automatically mean being aromantic, or vice versa. So, hypothetically, Underwood could very well be "very, very attracted to Cassie and women" and still be somewhere on the big, purple, white, and grey spectrum of asexuality.


Underwood, for his part, understands why people want to put him in a box. Having grown up in a conservative, faith-based family, he says he's always "lived within boxes." On The Bachelor, he didn't try to disguise his lack of interest in sex by saying he was waiting for marriage due to his faith. Looking back on his struggles to understand his sexuality, he said, "There is no one thing that is on your road that changes your life. There is very rarely that one instinct, and that's the case with this virginity. It's not just one thing. I wish I could say it was all God, because I know that's what he wants for us, but it's not. That's not the case."

If asexuality were a more widely known, understood, and validated orientation, would people like Underwood have such a difficult time accepting their lack of interest in sex? The now-28-year-old says he even understands why people assumed he was gay: "People, sometimes when they don't understand, they have to get from Point A to Point B somehow, and that's a line that they draw. That's just what they do to make sense of things in their mind."

But if our culture's hetero-homo binary wasn't so rigid, so arbitrarily assumed to be the only two expressions of valid sexuality, then it wouldn't be so difficult to understand sexualities that happen to be unlike our own.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture Feature

The "Contagion" Stars' Guide to Surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic

The stars of Soderbergh's prescient film Contagion have teamed up with Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health to offer a bit of science to help you get through this real-life pandemic.

Spy Culture / "Contagion"

If there's one thing to learn from the current coronavirus pandemic, it's that Steven Soderbergh is an underrated director.

Just kidding: Steven Soderbergh is a beautiful gift from the movie gods, and everyone knows it. The real lesson of today's upside down world is: Learn how to properly wash your damn hands. If you've yet to amass an entire playlist of excellent 20-second song clips to wash your hands to (we recommend the Friends theme song up until the chorus), then you've got plenty of time to learn while you play with your cats, count your cans of beans, and stare yearningly out the window like you're in a Baroque portrait.

But to help things along, the stars of Soderbergh's prescient film Contagion have teamed up with Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health to offer a bit of science to help you get through this real-life pandemic.

Contagion resonates for many reasons, from the film's chief medical consultant contracting the virus himself to the film's stark depiction of loss of life: Empty shelves in the grocery store develop into violent looting; bleary scenes of empty, trash-filled streets turn into scenes of mass graves. But then, through the miraculous work of the CDC and one female doctor's daring risk, a vaccine is developed within a year. Slowly, order returns to the world. Shopping malls resume the march of capitalism. Teens go to prom (sort of).

But the overarching theme of Contagion is that people need each other, and in times of crisis it's possible to honor our interconnectedness more than our distance (cultural, social, and economic, as well as physical). With that in mind, four of the actors who play the film's most poignant roles have these home-made messages for you (with all science coming directly from the scientists on the frontlines of this pandemic).

MATT DAMON: On Listening to Experts

"We can all do this together...just by staying apart."

#ControltheContagion - Matt Damon and the Contagion cast talk about COVID-19


"A pandemic means that the virus is everywhere, but it won't be every place at the same time. So, if it's not where you live today, you can bet that that's going to change. If you don't know anyone who's sick yet, you can also bet that that will change."

COVID-19 PSAs from the cast of CONTAGION: Laurence Fishburne

KATE WINSLET: On How Stopping the Spread Is in Your Hands

"We all want a cure. But until we have one, we need to be that for each other. Starting now."



"Paranoia is a kind of virus, as well. It requires fear and misinformation to spread, and we don't need scientists to cure that–just compassion and common sense."

COVID-19 PSAs from the cast of CONTAGION: Jennifer Ehle