Late-night television is strange. Thirty years ago, it satiated the same need that late-night web surfing does today: mindless entertainment to help you unwind at the end of the day. Despite the exponential growth of other nightly entertainment sources, late-night shows are still chugging along.
Each show starts the same way. The funnyman walks out to an applauding crowd, while his band plays some cute little tune. Then he tells a handful of jokes written by a room full of writers earlier in the day. The shows are usually taped sometime in the afternoon and try to incorporate some news or current events in the opening monologue.
During the election, the joke material flowed like milk and honey. If the debates weren’t enough, President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed proved to be the fountain of youth for joke writers, providing endless streams of material to poke and prod.
Since Trump took office, the political jokes have not subsided at all, and don’t show any signs of stopping. Late night hosts that dish the most out at Trump — most notably Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel — have significantly improved their ratings. Somewhere in the middle, you have the more neutral late-night hosts, venturing into the political realm here and there, but with far less veracity than Colbert or Kimmel.
Then, on the non-political side, you have Jimmy Fallon, standing alone in his vacuum devoid of Trump bashing. In an interview with the “Today” show, Fallon said that bashing Trump is “just not what I do,” and that he “doesn’t really even care that much about politics.”
You have to admire Fallon for having such self-awareness and sticking to his guns, despite plummeting ratings.
It appears “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” has taken the lead among late-night shows, riding his nightly politically fueled monologues. In the last year, Fallon’s lead over Colbert among younger viewers dropped from 364,000 to only 57,000.
Despite this loss of valuable ground, Fallon has steadfastly remained apolitical. Instead, he focuses almost entirely on pop culture, something that I imagine is quite the challenge these days.
I think Fallon is making the right move by abstaining from the bash-Trump train. He might take some losses right now, but in the long-run, this will prove to be the wiser move. When looking back at these turbulent years, Fallon will, at the minimum, be able to take pride in being solely a source of positivity in a world of suffocating despair. In the coming months and years, the allure of criticizing Trump will eventually subside, and the casual late-night viewer will grow tired of the incessant negativity.
Late-night television became what it is today because it served as a lighthearted source of laughter and fun, an escape from the doldrums of the workweek. Even if society and the world at large are crumbling down, nobody wants to be reminded of it by a comedian on TV forever. Right now, regardless of if you find him and his artificial laugh funny or not, Jimmy Fallon is the only one genuinely playing the role of late-night host correctly.
Abstaining from this trend for cash and instead focusing purely on positive humor is a much more sustainable, and enjoyable, strategy for the long term.
Andrew Hall is a UF management senior. His column focuses on entertainment.