We finally welcomed a new president yesterday, and as expected the late night shows were all over it. The daily shows all devoted a significant part of their time to Biden’s inauguration and Trump’s final departure from the White House, with some programs basically devoting their entire hour to the story. You can learn something about each host’s personal style and approach to both politics and comedy from how they covered this story, so let’s take a look at what they all had to say.
Could this be the last time that late night’s preeminent Trump critic starts off his show with a Trump joke? Almost definitely not, of course, unless Trump shockingly retires from public life now that he’s out of office. Meyers sounds as confused as you’d expect when he calls Trump a “former president,” like the reality of the moment is finally, mercifully setting in. There’s also a really fun, totally non-political joke from @karencheee in the first clip.
Meyers knows what his audience expects from him. A couple of minutes in his show-opening monologue wouldn’t be enough to satiate their thirst for an extensive, in-depth Closer Look at Biden’s inauguration and Trump getting drummed out of office. So here he is again, with a lengthy, sarcastic, quip-filled breakdown of the whole situation, including the actual inaugural event. Yes, there are Bernie Sanders jokes. One thing Meyers has going for him is that he understands how pacing can help elevate all jokes, even ones that aren’t that great; his rapid fire delivery where he unspools long, elaborate sentences in that cutting voice of his makes many of his comments seem more cutting and clever than they actually are. It definitely works.
Colbert, long removed from the vicious satire of his Colbert Report heyday, contrasted the inauguration’s abnormal conditions—the military presence, the lack of a large crowd, the masked and distanced audience of VIPs—with how it represents a larger return to normalcy for the country. Colbert puts forth that Biden represents a return to accountability and realism after the Trump years, where “everything was a sales job.” Colbert has embraced a kind of paternal role since moving to CBS, and especially during the last four years, not just calling out all the inadequacies and deficiencies of the Trump administration, but also trying to calm and reassure his viewers whenever possible. You can see that in action in the clip below.
Over on The Daily Show Trevor Noah took the opportunity to give viewers a history lesson on presidential inaugurations. Did you know almost none of the pomp and circumstance we see at these things is necessary? All the Constitution says is that the new president has to take the official oath of office, and that’s it. There’s nothing in there about Katy Perry and fireworks at all. Unbelievable. The whole thing could be done in like two minutes. You know that’s what Bernie Sanders was hoping for when he showed up yesterday. If you want to learn a bunch of trivia about past inaugurations, Noah’s your man.
The first thing you’ll notice when watching Jimmy Kimmel’s show is how different things are between California and New York. Unlike the New York-based shows—Colbert, Fallon, Meyers—Kimmel had to leave the studio and start doing his show from his home again after California ramped up its COVID-19 precautions over the last few weeks. (It looks like he’s doing his show from a barn that’s been converted into a night club or something.) Kimmel has been a regular critic of Trump for years, but it doesn’t quite dominate his show as much as it does with Meyers and Colbert; his balance between commentary and comedy generally stays tilted towards the latter. His treatment of the inauguration generally sums up how he’s handled Trump over the years: he’s critical, and shows him the disrespect he deserves, but is more interested in bashing out joke after joke than getting too bogged down in specifics. His approach is similar to Fallon’s, but a little more pointed, and thus a little more successful.
Jimmy Fallon likes his jokes. The Tonight Show host kept it characteristically light, with only a passing reference to Trump’s departure, and kind words for all the performers at the inauguration. The lack of an audience probably hurts Fallon more than any other late night host; his material feels even more insubstantial without a crowd.