The usual comparison of Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert is that the former doesn’t become partisan in his political humor and the latter is genially liberal. Some say this is one reason The Tonight Show gets higher ratings than The Late Show — that Colbert’s politically laced humor automatically loses him a chunk of viewers. On Wednesday night, the two hosts became a little closer in their approaches to the president-elect.
Fallon’s opening monologue, which barely lasted three minutes, was built around the idea that a Donald Trump presidency was an absurdity that had become a reality. When he went over to his desk postmonologue, Fallon turned serious — a rarity for him. He said he felt there was a mood of sadness, dismay, and frustration all around him, and that a man on the street had stopped him that day to say, “We’re gonna need some laughs tonight.” Fallon went on to say that this was his purpose on the Tonight Show — to bring you some laughs in difficult times. In other words, he spoke to his audience as though the majority of viewers were recovering from a terrible shock, which, one presumes, at least half of them — happy at Trump’s victory — were not. It was interesting.
Colbert, by contrast, did a supersized version of his opening monologue, a 15-minutes-plus organized argument about the election. Having recovered from the shock he endured during his live Showtime special, when the incoming returns transformed his show into a wake, Colbert was ready with marshaled positions on everything from how to break the news to your children (“If kids ask, why do bad things happen, you finally have the answer: the Electoral College”) to newly phrased insults for Trump supporters (“Like a goldfish, Trump voters’ memories don’t go back more than seven seconds”).
Colbert even showed footage from outside his Manhattan studio of the large protests that sprang up Wednesday night to decry Trump’s victory, praising the demonstrations as “freedom of assembly,” and said that based on the protests that had sprung up in cities around the country, “the unity thing might take just a scooch longer than Trump anticipated.”
“We have to accept that Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States,” said Colbert to strong boos from the audience. “I get that feeling completely,” said Colbert of the hostile response. “I just had to say it one more time; I want to keep saying it until I can stop throwing up in my mouth a little bit.” The Colbert monologue was a remarkably sustained piece, taking in not only Trump’s triumph, but also what he sees as the bottomless cynicism of the Republican Party as a whole.
So I put it to you: Does Colbert’s political position alienate you, does it comfort you, does it make you want to argue with the TV screen or switch the channel to Chuckling Jimmy?
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon airs weeknights at 11:35 p.m. on NBC. The Late Show With Stephen Colbert airs weeknights at 11:35 on CBS.