Late-Night TV Is No Joke
You’d think that since I’m up most nights - er, mornings - till at least 1, I’d be an expert on late-night television.
Well, I’m not.
I write at night. There’s something about settling in when the house is quiet, when my phone stops beeping and when the lights in my neighborhood are extinguished that makes me want to turn on the computer and start scribbling.
Then again, I’ve always been an insomniac. My mother stayed up most nights folding clothes or ironing with the “Tonight Show” for company. We had a small house and even with the volume low, I could hear every word. Sometimes I’d sit on the floor by my bedroom door where she couldn’t see me and watch with her.
Here’s what I remember about host Johnny Carson: The man was hilarious. His sense of timing was perfect. His jokes were good-natured. He was a natural.
Most of his humor was PG. Or so subtle a kid couldn’t catch the double entendres.
Today’s crop of late-night comics? Mean, nasty and profane.
Take Jimmy Kimmel, for instance. I’ve seen clips of his ABC show earlier this week when he cracked this joke about Brett Kavanaugh:
“I think there’s a compromise here. Hear me out. So, Kavanaugh gets confirmed to the Supreme Court, OK. Well, in return we get to cut off that pesky penis of his in front of everyone.”
Mutilation humor. What would Johnny make of that?
Most of the late-night comics probably grew up watching Carson. Yet they ignore the very thing that made Carson so likable: He never wanted to alienate large swaths of Americans.
“I would love to take on Billy Graham,” Carson once said, according to a piece last October in the National Review. “But I’m on TV five nights a week. I have nothing to gain by it and everything to lose.”
Today’s hosts don’t care about losing viewers who don’t share their world view. They seem content with their small, highly partisan audiences.
Anyone else remember Stephen Colbert’s “joke” last year about Donald Trump’s mouth being Vladimir Putin’s c@#k holster? Did anyone actually find that funny?
“It is important to note that these shows are competing for numbers that once would have been considered catastrophic,” noted Rich Lowry in the Review article headlined, “Johnny Carson > Jimmy Kimmel, The Decline of Late-Night Television.”
“Carson could pull in 9 million viewers when one of his shows popped; he averaged 19 million viewers a night his final week on air in 1992. Colbert is winning the late-night race with 3 million viewers.
“…If this trend is inevitable, it’s not a good thing. It removes yet another neutral zone, free of social and political contention, from American life. “
With the arrival of the edgy late-night comics we lost that place where all Americans - at least those with insomnia - could come at the end of the day to unwind and simply share a smile.
I miss that place. So, instead I write.