This was a great year for late-night TV, as the election fed the writers and hosts an endless stream of material. Seth Meyers came into his own, Samantha Bee became a source of catharsis, and Stephen Colbert found a way to be political within the late-night network format. Here is my list of the 10 most memorable late-night segments of the year.
1. Make Donald Drumpf again
Back in February, John Oliver was beside himself that he actually needed to do a segment on Donald Trump, who had emerged as the leading GOP candidate. He began with Trump’s attack on Jon Stewart for Stewart changing his last name — “He should be proud of his heritage!” Trump had said — and he ended by urging us to use the Trump family’s original name, Drumpf. In between, he busted Trump for incorrectly claiming that he’d been invited onto the show, he went after Trump’s rampant threats of lawsuits and his claim that he doesn’t settle lawsuits, he reminded us that Trump’s assertion that “you have to take out [terrorists’] families” is a war crime. It was Oliver at his best: impassioned, outraged, witty, and backed up by those things we used to call facts. Now, of course, the feverish segment — which has accumulated more than 31 million views on YouTube — seems a bit innocent.
2. Colbert consoles
It was a somber moment for a guy who has always seemed to be able to find the funny in dark news. Stephen Colbert asked, “How did our politics get so poisonous?” He became a comforter for his audience, and tried to end as positively as he could. Politics, he said, “takes up precious brain space we could be using to remember all the things we actually have in common. So whether your side won or lost, we don’t have to do this [expletive] for a while.” It was not the celebration he’d hope for, but it was unforgettable.
3. Bee’s morning after
“I guess ruining Brooklyn was just a dry run.” That line came at the beginning of Samantha Bee’s tirade the day after the election, on her show “Full Frontal.” She was referring to white people, who, according to exit polls, voted for Trump in big numbers. She then proceeded to do what she did so well throughout the election: rant intelligently. She was a “nasty woman” and proud of it, and her clarity of thought and her acute sense of irony were gifts. There were many Bee segments worth noting, including a look at Trump’s appointees that included this zinger: “[Steve] Bannon joined Trump’s campaign last summer. How is CNN just now discovering that he’s the milkshake that brings all the deplorables to the yard?” But watching Bee trying to cope with disappointment the morning after, noting that Trump’s presidency is not a gift to comedians, was powerful. “Jokes don’t write themselves. Jews write jokes, and they are scared [expletive]-less.”
4. “The Daily Late Show”
Jon Stewart took over Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” in July, once Trump got the Republican nomination. It was a much-needed fix for Stewart fans, who were weathering the election without his infusions of rage. He talked about “gymnastics,” and the “contortions many conservatives will have to do to embrace…