In 2016, ratings for late night talk and sketch comedy shows increased at an impressive but expected rate. It’s no secret that bad politics makes for good comedic material. While comedians had fun with the particularly tumultuous election, it seemed safe to say that the liberal late night establishment was fully expecting a Clinton victory and a return to relative normality. Well, that didn't happen. Since then, late night comedy has been far from normal. From cries of fake news to frequent Twitter tirades, it's clear that Trump was the star of late night comedy this past year.
Some comedians have felt more than comfortable tearing into Trump on a nightly basis. When he took over The Late Show on CBS in 2015, Stephen Colbert had to abandon The Colbert Show and the character that he used in order to mock conservative commentators and politicians alike; but Trump’s conduct so far in office has brought back his intentionally provocative self. After Trump called Colbert a “no–talent guy” during an interview, Colbert responded by giggling gleefully on his show: “The President of the United States has personally come after my show, and there’s only one thing to say...yay!”
While Trump has helped Colbert get back into his groove, he’s also helped several comedians find theirs. Trevor Noah, who had received lukewarm reviews since his takeover of the overtly political The Daily Show, has had many of his post–election clips go viral, and Seth Meyers, never one to shy away from politics during his tenure on SNL’s Weekend Update, has been hailed as one of the most incisive late night comedians of the Trump era and praised by New Yorker editor David Remnick for his “good–natured political fury."
However, some of the most interesting voices in late night right now are those who have identified themselves as “apolitical” and shied away from material involving Trump in the past. Comedians like James Corden and Jimmy Fallon (the latter of whom defended his amicable election interview with Trump and his silence on Trump’s policies throughout 2017 by saying that he didn’t “care that much about politics”) have seen dips in their ratings because of their aversion to talking about Trump.
At the same time, one of the most memorable moments of late night comedy in 2017 came from ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, and it was made all the more powerful by his unfamiliarity with politics. In the monologue where he opened up about his infant son’s heart surgery, Kimmel admitted to not knowing or caring much about politics, but gave a raw and teary eyed defense of programs like CHIP and the right to basic healthcare for children everywhere.
With all the crazy things going on in the world, we needed good comedy this year. Comedians tastefully (for the most part) tackled Trump, Hollywood, and Trump again. While there is no shortage of material for comedians, Trump seems to be the key for success in late night these days.