Satire is a good thing. It helps keep power in check, breaks down social barriers, and generally lighten things up. Late-night shows were the perfect model for satire in the days of Johnny Carson. Left, Right, big, small — everyone was on the chopping block and most of America tuned in.
But lately, late-night satire has lost its edge by nudging to one side of the political aisle. John Oliver viciously attacks Donald Trump and conservatives — and preaches angrily to those who disagree with him. Samantha Bee rags on Republicans while ignoring issues with Democrats. Stephen Colbert and others suck up to liberal politician guests and keep embarrassing liberal gaffes out of their opening monologues.
Late-night is a wasteland for tired left-wing ideas, political sycophants, and flat jokes.
Gone are the days of chuckling at anything and everything. Now, the idea of a joke is one side of the political aisle attacking the other through polarizing monologues and selective jokes. Everything is targeted now from the Left to the Right.
Ratings aren’t what they used to be because of it.
Larry Wilmore, who decided he would largely devote his show to race issues, is gone. Stephen Colbert struggles to find viewers, and most everyone else is scrambling to find traditional ratings. Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon manage to stay afloat through viral clips and videos.
“I think we’ve gotten into this realm of outrage as comedy or comedy as outrage, and to me it’s a bit fatiguing,” Brian Unger, one of the original correspondents for “The Daily Show” in the age of ex-host Craig Kilborn, recently said in a “Kozversations” podcast. “It feels like there’s a slew of hosts shaking their fists at the sky, telling people how stupid they are.”
Wilmore’s firing is only the latest consequence of this shift in late-night TV. The preaching over satire is a formula nearly all late-night hosts have embraced — but it has Americans scrambling to find their humor, political and otherwise, somewhere else.
While more right-of-center humorists used to be represented on traditional television shows like Dennis Miller and Adam Carolla, they’ve had to move to the corners of the late night game since the shift to the left in comedy. Miller hosts a radio program and does monologues for Bill O’Reilly’s show, while Carolla rants and raves on his various top-rated podcasts.
Others making a splash today and working against the tide are people like Greg Gutfeld, who hosts his own show for Fox News — a program that earns far more laughs than typical Fox News programming. His monologues often go viral and feel close to what a late-night satirist should be saying. He’s made a name for himself on the channel and through his bestselling books for biting at the Left while other late-night humorists focus on the Right.
Then there’s Steven Crowder, who typically pokes fun at obvious targets like social justice warriors through his web series, which earns hundreds of thousands of views each episode. Plus, there’s Fox News’ “Red Eye” — a late-night right-of-center show that invites the funnies from both sides of the aisle to give a humorous spin on the political news not found on other late night programming. It often gets better ratings than shows on well before its 3 a.m. time slot.
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These are the people and shows making jokes about things like Hillary Clinton’s embarrassing gaffes, her ever-changing Emailgate stories, and Bernie Sanders’ sell-out endorsement of Clinton.
More than anything, though, late night feels like a wasteland for tired left-wing ideas, political sycophants, and flat jokes. But the tide could be shifting. Late night is facing the consequences as we speak.
The more divisive and politically left-leaning hosts like Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert are captains to ships with falling ratings. Other shows capture only a fraction of the audience that once tuned into late-night TV — and now Wilmore’s firing proves anyone’s head could be on the chopping block.