Late-night comics aren’t heroes to the degree that doctors and scientists are during these dark times. But there are some evenings they’ve come pretty close.
Spending time with familiar faces right before bedtime can be as soothing as a glass of warm milk, even if our TV pals are struggling to put on shows without interns on deck to wipe their foreheads. In fact, watching them work without a net has been a huge part of the fun.
Most of the big names have been broadcasting from their homes, recruiting family members as sidekicks and crew members.
“The Tonight Show” has been gloriously hijacked by Jimmy Fallon’s daughters, who would rather be watching TV than appearing on it. The theme for “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” currently being performed by 5-year-old Jane Kimmel, just might be the feel-good song of the year.
We now know that Conan O’Brien has a bust of Teddy Roosevelt in his home office and that Fallon gets to his basement by zipping down a children’s slide.
Some hosts have taken the bare-bones approach to the extreme. John Oliver and Stephen Colbert are using “sets” that make “Wayne’s World” look like a Cecil B. DeMille production.
Others are being more creative. Seth Meyers has been broadcasting from a crawl space in his attic; Samantha Bee took to the woods, where she hunted down those animated bears from the Charmin commercials.
All the comics are still getting used to not having a live audience.
“I never really knew what loneliness was until I started telling jokes to an empty room,” Kimmel said in one episode. Actually, Kimmel has adjusted better than the rest. With his background in radio, he’s used to not hearing the roars.
And there’s been plenty of reasons for viewers to crack up.
Colbert poked fun at Bob Dylan’s new 17-minute song about John F. Kennedy’s assassination with a fake promo for other new numbers from the Minnesota Bard, including a two-hour ballad about Martin Van Buren. O’Brien sent up an old talk-show chestnut by adopting stuffed animals for a “wildlife” segment. Oliver has launched a campaign to hunt down a painting featuring two sexually charged rats.
Guests have also gotten into the spirit of things.
Kaley Cuoco graciously gave Kimmel viewers a tour of the House That “Big Bang” Built with its six sleeping dogs and an eclectic collection of coffee mugs. On “The Late Show,” Alicia Keys reworked Flo Rida’s hit “My House” into “You Can’t Come to My House.”
And then there’s Tracy Morgan.
The only person who has made as many talk show appearances in the past two weeks is Anthony Fauci. That’s just fine, especially since the “Saturday Night Live” veteran has been chiming in from different parts of his mansion, including a shark aquarium and a bowling alley.
What do these bits have to do with the coronavirus? Absolutely nothing. That’s why they’ve been so wonderful.
It’s tempting to tune to the news channels for one last update before hitting the sack. But good luck falling asleep after that. Yes, the late-night hosts aren’t completely avoiding politics — or the Big Lockdown. Most of them still use their monologues to treat Donald Trump like a piñata.
But these comics are at their best these days when they’re just goofing around. That may not earn them any medals, but it’s getting them laughs. In the end, that’s really all they — or we — could ask for.