Before the election, I admit I was going to take a different angle to a piece about late night and the election. I was going to talk about how the election helped fill the void left at the top of the late-night space from Jon Stewart leaving. Through coverage of the election, comedians such as Samantha Bee and Seth Meyers established themselves at the top of their game. But over the past couple weeks, I’ve noticed myself turning to these late-night comedians. Instead of thinking about the new late-night pecking order, I’ve found myself working through my emotions about the election by watching the late night shows. It’s been cathartic to watch them work through the same feelings I had and grapple with what the next four years are going to be like.
One of the unsung heroes of the late-night space during the 2016 election has to be Seth Meyers. When his show debuted in 2014, it was fine. He wasn’t doing anything particularly special or different about it. But, in the summer of 2015, Meyers made a transition. Instead of standing on the stage giving a monologue, he moved behind the desk and delivered jokes similarly to how he had on “Saturday Night Live.” He was clearly more comfortable behind the desk than standing on a stage, and it made watching him more enjoyable. He then developed a segment called “A Closer Look,” which is several minutes long and a sharp, hysterical deep dive into issues like President-elect Donald Trump’s predatory behavior or the presidential debates. On his first post-election show, he was smart and reflective on both his past and what the future will bring. In the monologue, he was clearly shaken by what happened, just as I was. But, hearing him work through his emotions with jokes made me laugh, which was exactly what I needed.
During this election cycle, one of late night’s strongest and most powerful voices, “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” premiered. Throughout the campaign, Bee’s sharp jokes, often told with a seething rage, led to compelling and hilarious TV. After the election, she went on the air and talked about things like how scared her staff (the most diverse in late night) is about the results of the election. But, at the end of the segment, she went through some of the positives to come out of the election, like historic elections of senators in Illinois and California. Like Meyers, Bee ended on an optimistic note, which was exactly what I needed to hear.
With the rise of Meyers and Bee, I found myself asking a question: Is John Oliver still the best and sharpest voice in late night? In his third season, Oliver continued doing what he does best, and constantly had great lines about Trump and how awful this election was. But, as the third season went along, I found myself less interested in watching. I still saw every episode, but it was no longer the first thing I watched on a Monday morning. His post-election episode was as good as Bee’s or Oliver’s, but there’s something about his humor that feels less fresh than it used to.
One show I haven’t talked about yet is “Saturday Night Live,” but I do want to mention them because of their cold open from a couple weeks ago. It was simple: Kate McKinnon as Clinton sitting at a piano singing “Hallelujah,” a song written by Leonard Cohen, who passed away several days after the election. After the election, the show had a lot of pressure to do something. By doing this, it showed it couldn’t do jokes as usual, and it nearly left me in tears. I don’t exactly know why, but there’s something about McKinnon singing one of my favorite songs and talking about not losing hope that got to me.
For the past couple weeks, I’ve been trying to maintain the sense of optimism that drives who I am. I’m trying to have faith in this country and faith in the American people. That’s particularly hard in a time like this one, but it’s something I need to do. I can’t let myself be broken by one night — and that’s made it just a little bit easier watching comedians like Bee, Meyers and Oliver attempt to hold Trump accountable on their shows.