Late-night talk shows have become one of television’s most unfiltered sources of news, with hosts confronting the day’s events via blunt jokes that, at their sharpest, can cut through the usual fog of the 24-hour news cycle. But since Donald Trump was elected president, late-night has also become more somber. Some hosts — namely Late Night’s Seth Meyers and The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah — are more frequently breaking their usual rhythms to deliver serious monologues of disapproval concerning the president’s policies, the hyper-partisanship that’s paralyzed Washington, and the increasingly bold racism making its presence known in America every waking day.
So it’s not surprising that late-night TV took this past weekend’s deadly racism in Charlottesville seriously — but the depth of the resulting solemnity was still startling to see from shows whose first priority is usually just making people laugh.
Here are some of the highlights from an unusually somber evening in late night.
On The Late Show, not even the Mooch could distract Stephen Colbert from denouncing Nazis
Before all hell broke loose in Charlottesville, Stephen Colbert had booked an interview with Anthony Scaramucci, who briefly captured America’s attention as Trump’s show-stopping, comically short-tenured White House communications director. But for all of the Mooch’s attempts at rehabbing his humiliation into a victory lap, Colbert framed both his interview with Scaramucci and the episode itself around Trump and Charlottesville, wondering aloud why Trump can’t seem to bring himself to condemn white supremacy without being forced into it.
“What a terrible weekend,” Colbert said to begin his show, to a smattering of nervous laughter from the studio audience. After describing the weekend’s terrifying events, Colbert turned his disdain onto President Trump’s responses, the first of which decried violence “on many sides” while the second finally denounced racism as “evil” a full two days later.
“It is difficult to express how heartbreaking it is to see something like this happening in our country,” Colbert said, “but here’s one thing that’s not difficult to express: Nazis are bad. The KKK, I’m not a fan!” He took a moment to pause as his audience applauded, then shrugged. “That wasn’t hard. That was easy.”
Jimmy Kimmel was baffled by Trump’s reluctance to condemn white supremacists
“We went into the weekend worrying about Kim Jong Un starting a war,” Kimmel said as he opened his show, “and came out of it wondering if our president is cutting eyeholes out of his bedsheets.”
Like Colbert, Kimmel focused on Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville — or more accurately, his lack thereof.
“The one thing he decides to be quiet about is this,” Kimmel said, later adding that “there was two sides, not many sides — and one of those sides had Nazis on it. All he had to do was condemn the Nazis! It shouldn’t have been a difficult thing.”
In conclusion, Kimmel declared, “if there’s any silver lining to this — and there isn’t, by the way — it’s that whatever vacation [Trump] was hoping to have is now ruined.”
The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon breaks character not to laugh, but to gape in horror
Usually, if Jimmy Fallon interrupts his regularly scheduled programming, it’s because he’s laughing too hard to keep going. As he (somewhat nervously) put it while opening Monday’s episode of The Tonight Show, his iteration of the program “isn’t a political show.”
But he then took a left turn from his usual apolitical path to speak plainly about how he found the Charlottesville protest and its aftermath “disgusting.”
After describing how much he hates thinking about his daughters growing up in a world like this, Fallon took on Trump more directly. “The fact that it took the president two days to come out and clearly denounce racists and white supremacists is shameful. And I think he finally spoke out because people everywhere stood up and said something. It's important for everyone — especially white people — in this country to speak out against this. Ignoring it is just as bad as supporting it.”
It was a slightly confusing statement from someone who typically ignores politics — but also a powerful one for those who no doubt tuned into The Tonight Show expecting an escape and got this instead.
Seth Meyers dismantles Trump’s vague response: “You can stand for a nation, or you can stand for a hateful movement. You can’t do both.”
In contrast to Fallon, Seth Meyers has made a name for himself in the past year by being straightforward whenever he finds something particularly frightening about the Trump administration, or identifies something worth exposing for its malice. Both those traits were out in force for his first episode of Late Night after Charlottesville, in which he took a gobsmacked, 14-minute “Closer Look” at Trump’s two responses and the chaos surrounding them both.
“It shouldn’t take longer for the president to do the right thing than it takes to get a package from Amazon,” Meyers marveled. “In fact, it would’ve taken less time to literally order a DVD copy of Do the Right Thing.”
But the most stark part of Meyers’s response on Monday came earlier in the episode, with his opening statement. He immediately slammed Trump’s initial “on many sides” qualification as proof that the “jury is still out” on whether or not Trump is “a normal and decent person.” Meyers also had zero qualms about tying what happened in Charlottesville to Trump and his longstanding rhetoric, including his “racist and insane” insistence that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
Meyers concluded this statement with firm, blunt force:
Donald Trump did not immediately denounce the white supremacist movement when given the chance, and now, whether he knows it or not, many of those people see him as leading that movement. The leader of our country is called a ‘president’ because he’s supposed to preside over our society. His job is to lead, to cajole, to scold, to correct our path, to lift up what is good about us and to absolutely and unequivocally and immediately condemn what is evil in us. And if he does not do that — if he does not preside over our society — then he is not a president.
You can stand for a nation, or you can stand for a hateful movement. You can’t do both. And if you don’t make the right choice, I am confident that the American voter will.