News / TV

Monologues a microcosm of the metaphor for late-night TV and the politics of today in 2016

Remember how your parents and grandparents warned you growing up about how to protect yourself in the case of a mass shooting? No. They were more worried about global thermonuclear war killing us all, than they were of a single madman shooting up a church, a movie theater or a nightclub.

And yet, here we are.

Another mass shooting.

Another night in which the late-night TV variety/comedy talk-show hosts feel a need to weigh in. When did this become our new normal? I suppose it traces back to 2001, when Americans found as much if not more comfort after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from hearing the heartfelt words of David Letterman and Jon Stewart, delivered straight from their late-night TV desks in New York City, as we did from our president or Congressional representatives.

That it has now become so commonplace for comedians and entertainers to calm us with soothing words of wisdom instead of with escapist humor, well you can blame that on the failure of Congress to re-enact a Federal Assault Weapons Ban (we had one from 1994-2004), or perhaps failed policies from both sides of the political aisle that have exacerbated religious extremism and encouraged radical Islamic jihad against us (and by extension, all of the Judeo-Christian world), or even closer to home, a failure to treat mental illness as a disease that, left untreated, may explode in our very faces.

It’s  disconcerting that — just as TV critics have noted the overwhelming sameness or blandness of late-night television comedy — we see how that plays out when these comedians address yet another national tragedy.

Which is why it’s fitting to revisit Samantha Bee’s Photoshopped addition to a Vanity Fair spread. As one male comedian after another preached love and tolerance on late-night television, Bee leaned in last night on her own show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS, and demanded action. In fact, she even quoted from Bible scriptures demanding that faith must be accompanied by works.

But first, she had to shoot lasers out of her eyes and take charge. Figuratively this time.

“After a massacre, the standard operating procedure is that you stand on stage and deliver some well-meaning words about how we will get through this together, how love wins, how love conquers hate and that is great. That is beautiful. But you know what? Fuck it! I am too angry for that. Love does not win unless we start loving each other enough to fix our fucking problems.”

So she tackled the problems, from letting religious extremists buy guns legally, the prevalence of the AR-15 and the lack of elected leaders to address it, to the lack of funding for mental health problems. In Florida, even.

Bee proved once again last night how vital her voice is to our global conversation in 2016.

Elsewhere around the dial…

Bee’s TBS elder statesman colleague, Conan O’Brien, joined her in wondering why “weapons of war” even are allowed to be bought and sold by civilians. O’Brien said he has tried over the years “not to bore you with what I think.”

“However,” he added Monday, “I am a father of two. I like to believe I have a shred of common sense, and I simply do not understand why anybody in this country is allowed to purchase and own a semiautomatic assault rifle. It makes no sense to me. These are weapons of war, and they have no place in civilian life. I have tried to understand this issue from every side, and it all comes down to this: Nobody I know or have ever met in my entire life should have access to a weapon that can kill so many people so quickly.”

Monday night’s episodes on the broadcast networks showed us in microcosm the state of late-night comedy in general.

Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, flips sides of the same coin in asking viewers to choose love over hate, tolerance over intolerance.

Fallon, with his happy-go-lucky reputation, somberly wondered on The Tonight Show what he’d tell his children. “We need to get back to being brave enough to accept that we have different opinions and that’s O.K., because that’s what America is built on — this idea that we can stand up and speak our minds and live our lives and not be punished for that. Or mocked on the internet. Or killed by someone you don’t know.” And then he suggested we keep on dancing.

Which he did, in essence, later in his show, playing games such as “Slip and Flip” with actor Liam Hemsworth.

Colbert, meanwhile, opened his Late Show with a solemn reminder, just like the others, that this “national script” is getting far too old and repetitive. “It’s as if there’s  a national script that we have learned. and I think by accepting the script we tacitly accept that the script will end the same way every time with nothing changing. Except for the loved ones and the families of the victims for whom nothing will ever be the same.” He urged viewers to remember that “love” is a verb that requires us to not just feel something but also to do something.

Colbert, who’d already booked Bill O’Reilly, dove deeper into how the presidential candidates responded after allowing O’Reilly to espouse his own viewpoint on the specifics of the Orlando murderer (which already are outdated by newly-discovered information about him). Colbert even got O’Reilly to agree with him that the American government can and should address assault weapon bans, outside of whatever policies need to change regarding religious extremism.

Jimmy Kimmel had two monologues (a primetime “Game Night” special before Game 5 of the NBA Finals, plus his regular Monday edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live) but didn’t address Orlando.

James Corden skipped his Late Late Show monologue on Monday, busy pushing his latest installment of “Carpool Karaoke,” but then again, Corden had flown back to Hollywood from NYC overnight after hosting the Tony Awards — where he had his biggest American TV audience ever and already had delivered words about Orlando. Corden did reference that confluence of mixed emotions from his TV desk on Monday night, quoting Lin-Manuel Miranda’s and Frank Langella’s acceptance speeches. “We are with you every step of the way,” Corden said.

Here’s what Corden said in a pre-taped intro to the Tonys. “Theater is a place where every race, creed, sexuality and gender is equal, is embraced, and is loved. Hate will never win. Together, we have to make sure of that.”

John Oliver opened Last Week Tonight on Sunday night with a couple of minutes on Orlando (embedding disabled). “This just hurts.” Oliver said instead of focusing on a single “dipshit terrorist” full of hatred, he showed footage of the lengthy line of people waiting to donate blood in Orlando following his massacre, and noting how outnumbered he still is.

Of the more politically-minded satirists with four shows a week, they were more willing to go after the politics of gun control in the wake of the Orlando massacre — and the other cold-blooded murder that happened in Orlando last week!

Trevor Noah opened The Daily Show by noting the irony of how President Barack Obama spoke to the press from a room named for James S. Brady, himself a victim of gun violence (during the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, which Noah didn’t mention!). Noah also noted that Obama has hosted 12 State dinners but delivered 16 addresses after mass-murder shootings. He then segued into the insanity of doing the same thing over and over, and told a tale of being a young South African child falling over his own shoelaces, and learning to tie them.

“This is a clearly complicated incident. There’s elements of terrorism. Homophobia. Mental health. But it is glaringly obvious America needs to make it a lot harder for people who shouldn’t have guns to get guns.”

“We’re trying to figure out what to do and what to say in response to something so evil,” said Larry Wilmore in opening Monday night’s episode of The Nightly Show. Wilmore wanted viewers to know that he and his staff are with them, and against Trump and the Republican presidential candidate’s ridiculous lies and propaganda in response to the massacre, and the conservative TV blowhards who desperately want to brand this as “radical Islam” and desperately avoid saying the words “gay” or “lesbian” in response to what happened.

And last but certainly not least, Seth Meyers has made great strides over the past year in steering Late Night into a more serious, thought-provoking direction. Meyers moved his monologue from center stage to behind his desk, and his “A Closer Look” segments devote several minutes to topics — much like Oliver does on HBO, but on a nightly instead of a weekly basis. Monday night, Meyers examined the obstacles in President Obama’s path toward establishing reasonable gun control. “So while there were some who were busy callously exploiting the tragedy to spread bigotry and misinformation, let’s keep in our hearts the victims and applaud those acts of love and humanity that poured forth in Orlando and across the country, because at the end of the day, that’s what will endure.”

But what comes next? Another tragedy? Or will we finally have the willingness to take the next right actions to put our faith into good works that help our fellow men, women and children, our friends and neighbors, and even our enemies who do not understand us.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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