The breakneck pace of news during President Donald Trump’s first 100 or so days in office has left many late-night comedians sputtering in bewildered rage — which makes the moments when they get quieter stand out.
In the wake of Trump suddenly firing FBI Director James Comey — the man leading an investigation into Trump’s own presidential campaign and its possible ties to Russia — late-night shows have scrambled to cover all the angles of the political drama as it unfolds. Colbert informed his studio audience of the news 10 minutes after it broke on Tuesday evening, at which point they both cheered and booed in total confusion. Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal staff had already finished writing their weekly show when it happened, forcing them to come up with an entirely new segment altogether.
So the next night, May 10, both Colbert and Bee unsurprisingly leaned into their well-honed fury, listing Comey’s firing as yet another example of Trump’s incompetence. Or as Bee called it, “Our weekly constitutional crisis: what the fuck is it this time?!"
But The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah was less visibly angry at the shocking news than disturbed by its far-reaching implications. Only a minute into his monologue, he dialed down the exaggerated punchlines to get real with his audience.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat this,” he said grimly. “This is bad for democracy.”
As if to underline the frankness of his point, Noah then cut to a montage of cable news trying to make sense of what had happened, with anchors throwing around phrases like “whiff of fascism” and “looks more like a banana republic.”
“Just say it!” Noah yelled. “‘This is the kind of thing that only happens in Africa!’ You don’t have to use euphemisms!”
And in contrast to the other late-night hosts — excepting Seth Meyers’s predictably analytical “Closer Look” — Noah took pains to point out how especially notable Comey’s firing truly is in the larger context of political history, Watergate comparisons or no.
“What makes this particularly scary,” the host said, “is that in America, you have checks and balances for this reason: so if a president makes a dubious decision like this, you could trust Congress to step in and do something about it.” And yet, he pointed out, many Republicans currently in Congress are either hedging around the issue or flat out trying to force everyone to move right along past it.
“Democracies don’t go away in a flash,” Noah went on. “You don’t just wake up one morning and tanks are rolling through the streets. It’s a slow burn, with many steps along the way — and this is a big step.”
Focusing on the danger of a “slow burn” isn’t exactly the bombastic rage we’ve come to expect from political comedians, but as Noah proved with this stark monologue, sometimes making the delivery a little smaller can make the issue feel a whole lot bigger.