We knew the presidential debates between Trump and Biden would be a total trainwreck, but it’s still a little shocking how utterly ugly and disastrous that first one was. It’s impossible to understand how anybody could watch it, even the biggest, most hopeless Trump supporter, and not come out feeling despondent about this country and its future. It was the worst 90 minutes I’ve ever seen, and I once sat through most of Caddyshack II.
It’s impossible to effectively joke about Trump, but there’s still value in seeing people call out exactly how unhinged the dude is. And it’s better when those people are at least slightly funny about it. So let’s take a look at how the top late night shows have covered the debate so far.
Let’s start with Desus Nice and The Kid Mero, hosts of Desus & Mero on Showtime, who perceptively compare Trump’s blustery, unhinged debate performance to a surly drunk on the Long Island Rail Road. I whole-heartedly endorse their idea of everybody talking like Biden, threatening folks to “keep yapping that malarkey” when needed, and their request to moderate the next debate. Desus and Mero fact-checking Trump to his face in real time is something America absolutely needs right now.
Seth Meyers, as usual, pulls no punches in his Closer Look debate, calling Trump “a petulant psycho” right off the bat. You’re gonna see some of the same observations all throughout these clips, and the same footage of Dana Perino calling the debate a “shitshow,” because there’s only one possible reaction to this debate: it was an absolute embarrassment and disaster. I’m pretty sure this is the only video where you’ll see Wolf Blitzer in BDSM gear, or extremely timely Kevin Federline jokes. Before hitting the meat of the debate, though, Meyers does something that none of the other late night shows did, and that might help you understand how anybody, anywhere, could possibly think Trump had a good debate performance: Meyers runs through the incessant anti-Biden coverage that aired on Fox News leading up to the debate, including some of their supposedly “serious” journalists repeating the Trump campaign’s conspiracy theories about Biden’s mental unfitness.
Over on CBS, a live Stephen Colbert resorted to the language of epic mythological poems and/or Lovecraftian horror to describe the unholy terror of the debate in his Late Show monologue. Dude is impressively—and appropriately—exasperated in this clip, and is also pretty sure the debate turned him sterile? Colbert is never as biting or indignant on CBS as he was nightly back on The Colbert Report, but this is about as close as he gets today.
The Late Show had more on the debate, as well, including these goofball sight gags.
Samantha Bee returns from her quiet bower to criticize Chris Wallace’s spineless performance as moderator, point out Trump’s many lies, and advise Biden to get coached for the next debate by the meanest people on earth: teenage girls. Uh, she also points out that the whole monologue was written at 2 a.m. mere hours before her show aired. Bee has staked out her own territory in late night over the last few years, and I’m not just talking about the wooded copse that her show has been broadcasting from during the pandemic.
Trevor Noah kicks off his debate coverage with his own quick impression of the event. It’s still more dignified than what actually happened on Tuesday. Also I’m not sure if asking Dana White, proud Trump supporter, to send a UFC ref to moderate the next debate is the smartest idea. His big takeaway, one shared by, uh, all reasonable people, is that these debates somehow need to be fact-checked in real time—that Trump shouldn’t be able to just stand there and spew lie after lie challenged only by Biden, which will inherently make it seem like a “he said, he said” situation and not, y’know, lies vs. the truth.
Over on ABC, Jimmy Kimmel (a persistent critic of Trump and the right-wing) dubbed the debate the “We Miss America” pageant before contrasting how it was covered on Fox News as opposed to almost every other single media outlet. Basically it’s a series of legit journalists pointing out how disastrous the debate was, intercut with an occasional shot of Fox hoaxters like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Dan Bong-fuckin’-ino raving about Trump’s performance. Kimmel also hammers home on Trump’s refusal to denounce the Proud Boys and white supremacy. “You know who refuses to condemn white supremacists?” Kimmel asks. “White supremacists!”, to the proud clapter of whoever was in the studio at the time.
Finally, toupee-tousler-in-chief Jimmy Fallon actually took time from his weeklong BTS love-in to devote seven minutes to the debate. Is this the weakest material of any of the shows I’ve mentioned here? Absolutely! Can we still blame Fallon for normalizing Trump during his campaign? Of fucking course. Still, is it good that Fallon and The Tonight Show are calling out Trump’s refusal to disavow white supremacists to one of the youngest and largest audiences in late night, and during the heavily hyped BTS Week, to boot? Yeah. That’s good. The show could be massively better in almost every regard, but at least it’s not bothsidesing this election, in the way that previous Tonight Show hosts almost certainly would’ve done.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, music, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.