If 2020 was the year of the late-night bathtub and garage specials, the last twelve months saw somewhat of a return to normal for the entertainers making linear viewers laugh on a nightly basis.
With all of the late-night hosts returned to the studio – albeit some such as Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee and Desus & Mero in new digs – the biggest change this year was the return of in-studio audiences and guests.
The Late Show showrunner Chris Licht told The Hamden Journal earlier this year that this move brought a “rejuvenated sense of purpose” for all of the shows.
While Donald Trump was no longer President (for the majority of the year), the genre did have to contend with insurrection kicking off the year, a heavily polarized country and the lingering effects of the pandemic, which is now ticking into its latest phase with the fast-rising Omicron variant.
As we look ahead to 2022, The Hamden Journal asked a number of the late-night performers and showrunners to highlight their favorite moment of the year.
Before the Omicron variant started putting fear into everyone about returning to the dark days of March 2020, Seth Meyers was able to get back out to the bars and go day drinking with the likes of Lorde and Will Forte.
The former SNL-er also made headlines when he invited his friend, comedian John Mulaney, on the show for his first post-rehab interview, and signed a major new extension to his NBC deal that will see him continue to host Late Night through 2025.
But for Meyers, the most fun he had this year was the launch of Corrections, the online-only segment of the show that essentially sees him make fun of his own errors on his late-night show.
The segment began in March 2021 and has created a community – known as Jackals – that descend every week into the YouTube comments to let him know what he and his staff have got wrong that week.
Meyers tells The Hamden Journal that so much of Corrections is owning your ignorance. “It feels like working material in a club, like doing an open mic to end the week in that it’s very sparsely attended and very specific to each given week but it’s a lovely release. The most thing about it is creating a game of having people lovingly nitpick you,” he says.
The comedian records the segment at the end of his Thursday taping and it’s created quite the extra workload, particularly as he has eschewed help from his confidant and showrunner Mike Shoemaker. “It’s a key part of our week, we’ve basically realized the importance of clearing my Thursday schedule to work on a run list for Corrections. I don’t know if it’s the best use of my time, but I enjoy it so much and it’s become a really nice extra thing to give something to our most intense fans,” he adds. “Every now and then, I’m reminded how stupid the whole thing is, which tickles me.”
On last week’s year-end special, Meyers joked about doing a one-year anniversary special in March. “You would think at the very least, Peacock would come knocking on the door. Now we’ve announced it, you’d think that all of the streamers will come to us with offers. The only offer we got was from Quibi Italy,” he jokes.
Meyers has been back in the studio for over a year but his audience only returned in October – something that he admits he was nervous about given the insider jokes that he’s been trading in during the pandemic. “I did fear I might hate it but the nice thing was realizing that it wasn’t an audience that came back, it was our audience that came back. One of the things that became apparent was they were the same people that were with us in the attic and at the in-law’s house and the empty studio. They had been with us the whole way. That night was far more emotional than I expected,” he says. “I will say the hardest time for our show is the two weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas because we do think there are some people there that really want to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree and we’re sort of paired with that.”
James Corden and his crew were out of the garage and back in the studio this year, a year in which they celebrated hitting 1,000 episodes.
The CBS series was able to welcome back the return of Carpool Karaoke in September with Camila Cabello, Billy Porter and Idina Menzel as well as a Cinderella-themed Crosswalk Musical. They also took Prince Harry on an open-top bus trip around Los Angeles, something that caused headlines before it even aired.
But the main change for the show was a new sense of fun and camaraderie at the top of the show with the Gavin and Stacey co-creator creating a more intimate setting between the crew, leading to moments such as Corden spontaneously calling Oprah Winfrey to pitch her on a new set of hotels.
However, Corden tells The Hamden Journal that his favorite moment of the year was turning CBS exec Nick Bernstein, the SVP, Late-Night Programming, West Coast into a television (and podcast) star. Bernstein became on-show fodder for Corden and his exec producers, including Ben Winston and Rob Crabbe, forcing him to sit in a rapidly growing chair, making him dress as a jockey and ride a plastic horse, sending him to open his favorite racetrack and putting him on the spot about Corden’s own contract negotiations, which The Hamden Journal revealed in September.
“I think if I think back to a favorite moment, it’s probably the week of shows that the Senior Vice President – there is no junior Vice President FYI – of late night programming (west coast) Nick Bernstein returned to the building after Covid restrictions were lifted. We decided to make a thing of it and to sit him in the studio, we then made a decision on the air to raise his chair a few feet every show that week, so that by the end he was in a harness sat 20 ft in the air. It felt anarchic and silly and started the on screen career of Nick, which has now led to him being on basically every Malaysian podcast this year. We’ve created a monster and that week was the start of it,” Corden said.
Samantha Bee celebrated 200 episodes of TBS’ Full Frontal earlier this month. This year, in addition to taking on the usual suspects – from MAGA nuts such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Gov. Ron DeSantis – she covered topics such as climate change, Reality Winner, Rwanda and Steven Seagal’s career as well as built a reproductive escape room featuring Busy Philipps.
The former Daily Show correspondent also moved out of the woods and back into a studio – eschewing the CBS Broadcast Center in New York for her own studio in Norwalk, Connecticut.
However, before she left the leafblowers in the woods, Bee put together Full Frontal Wants to Take Your Guns – a special episode dedicated to gun control and got a slew of celebrities and politicians, including Josh Groban to persuade Americans to do “one fucking thing” to change the laws.
Bee told The Hamden Journal, “As the pandemic waned in the spring of 2021 and life briefly returned to normal, we experienced a resurgence of all the good and bad that life has to offer. One of the things that came barreling back to pre-pandemic levels was gun violence. After a few back-to-back mass shootings, we at Full Frontal were absolutely sick of idly standing by while 316 people each day become the victims of gun violence in the U.S. Why are Americans taught there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop gun violence? And where do we even begin to try to stop it? We decided to start the only way we know how – with a comedy special called Full Frontal Wants to Take Your Guns.”
Desus & Mero
Desus & Mero has been picking up steam since the show launched on Showtime in 2019. Closing out 2020 with a widely-praised interview with President Barack Obama, this year the pair scored interviews with the likes of Stacey Abrams, Matt Damon and Dwayne Johnson as well as taking celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma to a barbershop.
The pair, who had been heavily tipped to secure an Emmy nomination this year but missed out, were also able to leave their home sneaker wall and basement behind and return to the studio.
They moved into their newly revamped studio in June – having bought their own facility just before the pandemic – but they managed to keep the camaraderie that they’d developed while filming remotely.
Both Desus and Mero said that they’re highlight of 2021 was their Yo-Yo Ma interview, where they went to Cambridge, Massachusetts – one of their first on location interviews during the pandemic – to speak to the musician. After an insightful heart-to-heart, Ma ends with a tribute to rapper DMX, who died in April, playing a cello version of Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.
Desus told The Hamden Journal, “Getting a chance to interview a legend like Yo-Yo Ma was an honor and a blast. He immediately became the third Bodega Boy and we bonded over DMX.”
Mero added, “Having watched Yo-Yo Ma on PBS as a kid, to interviewing him face-to-face coming off the untimely passing of DMX, the way the two things dovetailed perfectly into an impromptu jam session of one of DMX’s greatest hits by the world’s most celebrated cellist is something you can only find here.”
Jimmy Kimmel brought back his studio audience to the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles during the summer with a little help from his friend Jennifer Aniston. The comedian, whose deal is up next year and he admitted he is vacillating as to whether to extend it, had a college football bowl game next after him and the ABC show has been performing well in its spot as the number two overall late-night show.
The caustic comedian took on the usual suspects this year from Alex Jones, Karen(s) and Donald Trump.
Molly McNearney, executive producer and co-head writer of Jimmy Kimmel Live! told The Hamden Journal that there were two memorable moments from 2021 (a year in which her husband dunked on rival Jimmy Fallon’s pizza making skills).
She said that rewriting the show on January 6 as a right-wing mob stormed the capitol was particularly grueling, not helped by an impending visit from the tooth fairy as well.
“Jimmy and I were home, preparing the night’s show from our house as the lone staff members with a camera and sound guy. All other staff and crew were working from home due to Covid. We had our monologue for that night in fairly good shape and then turned on the TV and witnessed the violent attack on the US Capitol unfolding. I remember Jimmy saying “I think our monologue is about to change” as we watched Trumpers and with right-wing militia scaling the walls and smashing windows. I texted all the writers to make them aware we’d be changing courses for the night. It was a hard directive to give. Witness the crumbling of democracy and try to write jokes,” she said.
“We trashed our monologue and started from scratch with only a couple hours to air. When we heard about gun shots we didn’t even know if we’d air. We were scrambling to put together a monologue that we had to shoot from our house within hours and we didn’t know if people were safe or if the election results were intact. In the midst of all the chaos our six year old daughter wanders over and pulls her first tooth out of her head. We stopped down for a quick celebration in the kitchen before racing back to our laptops to rewrite a whole show we fed from our living rom. We lost a tooth and the foundation this country was built on that day.”
On a lighter note, McNearney called the day that Senator Ted Cruz flew to Cancun while his state of Texas was in the middle of a winter storm crisis “one of the more exciting days of the year”. When photos of Cruz boarding a plane to Mexico with his daughter holding a cup of noodles she spent all night zooming in on the photos.
“I’m ashamed to admit how much time I spent last night trying to confirm this was indeed Ted Cruz. The Benjamin Franklin bifocals had me suspicious. They’re really the only thing that didn’t match up. And of course, I know this because I did a Google image search on “Ted Cruz glasses” at 11 pm and am all too familiar know with every bad pair of sunglasses he’s worn. I also Googled the tennis shoes he’s wearing and found another unfortunate photo of him in shorts wearing the identical pair. I never want to see Ted cruz in shorts again. Next, I noticed the mask this man is wearing is the same at the one Ted Cruz wore to Biden’s inauguration. The Come and Take it defiance mask. Same one he wore when he voted to overturn Arizona and Pennsylvania’s votes,” she added.
In March, The Tonight Show was the first late-night show to bring back a studio audience – one featuring socially distanced and masked first responders and health care workers – with Jimmy Fallon said that after last year, it was “like performing at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.”
The NBC show saw the former SNL star bring back his Joe Biden impression and later in the year brought the President on the show, his first late-night appearance since becoming Commander-in-Chief. The show also did what it does best with comedy sketches including its viral Wandavision parody with Elizabeth Olsen.
But for co-showrunner Jamie Granet-Bederman, the top moment of the year was its Broadway’s Back sketch with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“Celebrating the return of Broadway with Jimmy and Lin-Manuel Miranda performing Broadway’s Back with Broadway legends in front of our fully-vaccinated, live studio audience was as exhilarating as it was symbolic. But even now, with uncertainty again in our futures, there’s at least one constant – The Tonight Show’s dedication to providing humor, laughs, happiness, and even some comfort in any circumstance,” she told The Hamden Journal.
“We never let go of that optimistic energy that defines The Tonight Show even through the most challenging days of the pandemic. And that energy was reinvigorated as we – and the world – returned to some semblance of normal this past year. We returned to Studio 6B, brought back our studio audience, and welcomed a sitting President back to late-night for the first time in five years.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
Whereas most late-night shows returned to the studio in 2020, the big step change for Trevor Noah and his Daily Show team was moving out of his apartment and into a new studio in Times Square.
The South Africa-born comedian, like a handful of hosts, took an extended break over the summer and returned to a shiny new space in ViacomCBS headquarters, allowing him to banter with his correspondents a little easier.
Noah spent the year discussing the highs and lows of pop culture and politics, moving between interviewing top level guests as well as highlighting the absurdity of the world.
Jen Flanz, showrunner and exec producer, told The Hamden Journal that Nicki Minaj’s September tweet about her cousin in Trinidad, whose friend apparently became impotent as a result of the vaccine, was a perfect case in point.
“The Nicki Minaj Twitter drama was a true gift and a perfect Daily Show story this year: A pop culture moment with an international twist that was blowing up on social media,” she told The Hamden Journal. “It seemed like one giant excuse, or two giant excuses, to do testicle jokes, but against the backdrop of the very serious Covid pandemic, vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, we were able to inform our audience while Trevor’s jokes lifted us up – and also got to talk to the Trinidadian Minister of Health. It really was everything that makes a great Daily Show segment: A veneer of fun with a whole bunch of serious information baked in.”