When I was about 12 years old, maybe younger, my parents allowed me to stay up late to watch Johnny Carson’s joke filled monologue on The Tonight Show. Looking back, I believe my father only tolerated my watching. So long as he saw his sports scores, dad was satisfied, but my mother actually encouraged my late night viewing. Maybe it was because my mom’s side of our family is quite witty. I always aspired to be like my mom’s brothers, my Uncle Bill or Uncle Jack Houman. Those guys were charming, professional story tellers who could make people laugh at a funeral – and they did.
Johnny Carson had great writers who gave him some wonderful, timeless material, still funny to this day. The Tonight Show had so many viewers, that a wily, straight-faced Carson once joked about a lack of toilet paper causing a nationwide shortage by hoarders the very next day. When he wasn’t telling jokes, Johnny was talking to the guests on his show who told remarkable, interesting stories that kept Carson, sidekick Ed McMahon, and the rest of us on the edges of our seats. Alas, Johnny, you left us too soon, but we were able to get by on David Letterman and Jay Leno; both talented and funny and both able to inspire conversations at coffee breaks the next morning.
For now, those of us looking for late night humor have plenty of options on a plethora of channels, sadly all unfunny. Here’s exactly what I’m getting at; Presidents have always been the target of jokes, it’s an inevitable part of the job. Even President Gerald Ford laughed when Chevy Chase would imitate presidential pratfalls on Saturday Night Live. However, since the 2016 elections, our current President is the focal point of incessant political commentary disguised as comedy. Notwithstanding he does or doesn’t deserve the commentary, the issue is we have other programs to watch pundits discuss and critique our national politics. Late night comedy is the place we go for relief from the partisan rhetoric and hopefully, just laughs.
Even my left-leaning friends are getting bored with the non-stop Trump bashing jokes ending with the punchline “impeachment”. It’s not because they are beginning to like our President or feel sorry for him, it’s because the humor is getting lame and predictable. Would it kill a comedy writer to maybe use their imagination? Making fun of people isn’t humor. Bullying people isn’t humor. Humor or a good joke should be funny and make you laugh 80 years from now just as it did when fresh.
“Who’s on first base?” by the comedy team of Abbott and Costello is a classic routine that never gets old. I’m not a fan of the slap-stick style humor that duo was known for, but their clever word play of naming a baseball team roster is comic genius. A few generations later another non-political jester appeared that made everyone laugh; Jerry Seinfeld. He used observational humor in the same manner Mark Twain made humorous commentary about his surroundings of the late 1800’s, again still funny more than a century later.
There are many people who say it was a foul joke that goaded Mr. Trump into running for, and winning, the Presidency. Go back to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner of April 30, 2011 when Donald Trump was in the audience at this long running non-partisan event. “The Donald”, a private citizen at the time, found himself the target of unflattering jokes from Seth Meyers and the sitting President, Barack Obama. I suggest readers go to YouTube and search for “the moment Donald Trump decided to run for president”. After viewing those video clips, tell me if that isn’t a look of seething determination on Mr. Trump’s face. Once again, publicly humiliating a person is neither humor nor funny, and in that case it really backfired on the jokers.
People used to watch the 11PM news knowing after the reporting of wars and world suffering their TV would get better once the comedians came on. Viewers could drift to sleep with their bad news thoughts replaced with late night comedy dreams. Now it just gets worse after the news, no matter which side of the political bed you rest your head.
The late night comedy shows have dropping ratings numbers from both sides. The first viewer segment they lost was upset conservatives and now even liberals are growing weary of the same constant drone. Late night comedians need to learn their bitterness isn’t funny anymore.