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.
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 Homeyoutu.be
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