Late-night comedy rushes in to the Trump era
NEW YORK — HBO’s ads promoting John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight” depict him cowering behind a desk, with the tag line, “Scary times call for a scared man.”
Be not afraid. Between Oliver’s return Sunday from a three-month hiatus and Donald Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin’s stint hosting “Saturday Night Live,” this is shaping up to be a big weekend in what has already been a promising start to the Trump era in late-night comedy.
Melissa McCarthy’s impersonation of White House press secretary Sean Spicer quickly went viral on social media last weekend. Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah are nightly newscasters of the absurd,
Samantha Bee is continuing her biting work and Stephen Colbert’s opinionated topicality has rejuvenated his CBS show in competition with NBC’s Jimmy Fallon.
“We have to live in (Trump’s) world now,” said Steve Bodow, executive producer of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central. “We used to be able to observe him, but now we have to live in his world. He’s taken the country hostage, in a way.”
The mountain of material has been daunting. Bodow’s fellow executive producer, Jen Flanz, likens the pace to cramming for a different test every day. Bee seemed breathless recently telling viewers, “Believe me, we are not done,” and beseeching them to stick with her through a commercial break after comparing confusion surrounding Trump’s immigration order to the “healthcare.gov of Islamophobia.”
Once an occasional feature, Meyers’ “A Closer Look” segment is like a newspaper opened every day at the top of his show. There’s so much to work with that he said he toggles between “multiple Constitutional crises” and “mundane, every day weirdness,” like confusing comments Trump made about historical figure Frederick Douglass.
“The Daily Show’s” Noah did a “Profile in Tremendousness” about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, mocking the jurist’s story about crying when he first learned of the death of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as “the whitest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Daily Show” correspondent Hasan Minhaj has also emerged as an important voice, a Muslim comedian at a time many Muslims feel under attack.
Into this maelstrom steps Oliver. He’s made it a point in past years to step back from the day-to-day tumult of politics, believing it best suited to those with a nightly platform while he concentrates on his investigative comedy. But some things are hard to resist, and his show about Trump’s family name change from “Drumpf” was one of last season’s highlights.
How much will Trump dominate his upcoming round of shows?
“We’ll work it out,” he said. “I could lie to your face again. I don’t know. We’re very anxious to not make it all Trump all of the time, both for the level of interest and on a level of what the human soul can sustain.”
Oliver said that “there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit with an administration like this and you kind of have to reach past that.”
Bee and her staff had a “what now?” meeting after an election they weren’t alone in thinking would turn out differently.