Summer is traditionally a calm time for the media. Very few things go on in the White House, late night talk shows are not a big deal and the headlines tend to focus on minor issues. However, summer 2017 proved to be one of note as, day after day, the news went from shocking to interesting to simply unfathomable. When the biggest stories in popular culture end up being related to politics, talk shows ultimately have to comment on them, inviting imperative dialogue and awareness into what was previously mindless entertainment.
The majority of this was because of the disorderly administration that currently inhabits the White House. Major news highlights of this summer included the allegations of Russian involvement in the 2016 Election, most notably Donald Trump Jr. admitting to meeting with Russian officials in person and engaging in email conversation with these officials. Additionally, the Trump administration has been notorious for its plethora of resignations. However, this is merely a snippet of news from the West Wing. President Trump has declared his stance on social issues as well. He announced a plan to ban all transgender military personnel and even went so far as to not admonish the Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members who marched in a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia claiming that there was “blame on both sides.”
While average Americans struggle with the constant ping of news notifications on their phones, read newspapers and take solace in the unity of Twitter, there have been a select few who have thrived on these issues, thereby making their mark in popular culture. These people are the late night television hosts. When Jon Stewart hosted “The Daily Show” and Stephen Colbert had “The Colbert Report,” both on Comedy Central, those were the only two politically charged comedic outlets on television. Although talk shows such as “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “The Late Show with Dave Letterman” had presidents and other politicians as guests, nothing else political was capitalized on or emphasized. However, both “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers” have proven themselves to be not only comedians but political commentators.
Colbert’s monologues traditionally begin with a recap of the headlines of the day. Unlike his conservative character from “The Colbert Report,” Colbert has established a new persona in which he uses the news as a way to critique the administration. He not only admonishes the administration for its flaws but elicits applause from the audience in his rallying cries declaring President Trump unfit for office and urging Trump’s resignation or impeachment. Additionally, because Colbert stands as he delivers his impassioned monologues, his showmanship draws viewers to him, knocking his competitor Jimmy Fallon out of first place in the ratings, according to an article from Variety. Undoubtedly, it is Colbert’s outlandish brand of humor that distinguishes him. Colbert created “Russia Week,” dedicating a full week of pre-taped segments to discuss his overtly political trip throughout Russia. One night, he stayed in the same hotel room where the rumored clip of Russian prostitutes urinating on Trump’s bed was filmed. Another night, he aired a day in the life of a Russian oligarch. He also asked various Russians on the street their thoughts and opinions on America and Trump. Russia Week is one of the main reasons why Colbert’s ratings and critical acclaim, according to the same article from Variety, have increased, as he creates a world within the current political one, thereby allowing some escape.
Meyers has chosen a different approach from Colbert. Based on his previous experience as anchor of the “Weekend Update” segment on “Saturday Night Live,” Meyers opens up every show with the news headlines of the day. He sits at his desk and recalls key headlines with witty punchlines. However, Meyers goes even further than that and, during the election season, began a segment called “A Closer Look,” in which he dives deeper into key stories. There is no question that this detailed segment, as well as its counterpart, “The Check-In,” (which describes other topical issues that do not dominate the conversation) offer a liberal bias and a harsh condemnation of President Trump and his administration. However, each segment is carefully crafted with detailed information and compelling news clips. While the goal is to point out the hilarity of the news, Meyers also makes a point to be informative and teach his viewers about the pros and cons of various issues. As an attendee at one such show taping on July 25, I asked Meyers during a question and answer session with the studio audience what his favorite segment was to film. His response was “A Closer Look,” as he felt that these pieces were the most informative and add a new dimension into the topics dominating the political conversation. In fact, the second news stories break, prior to taping, the writers of “Late Night” often scramble to write “A Closer Look” segments to describe what actually happened just minutes prior.
Although late night shows were once home to song parodies and slapstick games with celebrities (often humanizing stars who seemed the most unrelatable) Colbert and Meyers have taken to an alternative approach. While the summer is a time of fun and relaxation, this summer has proven it can also be a time of turmoil for a country, especially with someone like Donald Trump at the helm. Therefore, just as this new era of talk show reminds us, it is our responsibility as citizens of the United States to stay informed in addition to being entertained because politics does not take a summer vacation.