Late-Night Comedy: A Transformative Era of Hosts and their Impact
Late-night comedy has experienced a significant transformation in recent years with the departures of iconic figures like David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Conan O’Brien from the late-night television landscape. Jon Stewart made a comeback, only to face the cancellation of his show, “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” by Apple TV+ when he staunchly refused to compromise his unfiltered views. This period saw a wave of new and fresh faces emerging, which turned the late-night landscape into a fragmented battleground, encompassing everything from TV ratings to YouTube viewership. In the past year, several of these rising stars bid farewell to their shows. Trevor Noah left “The Daily Show,” and James Corden moved on from “The Late Late Show.” We also said goodbye to shows like “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” and “Desus & Mero.” Most recently, it was announced that stand-up comedian Taylor Tomlinson would be taking over James Corden’s time slot with her upcoming series, “After Midnight.”
Gone are the days of the intense rivalry between Letterman and Jay Leno. The late-night competition now fosters a friendly atmosphere, with hosts seemingly being admirers of their fellow hosts. Over the past half-decade, the focus shifted away from internal host rivalries and onto national and global political figures, most notably Donald Trump. For some hosts, politics became their defining brand, while others strived to maintain the lighthearted, feel-good humor reminiscent of earlier eras. Nevertheless, every late-night host has endeavored to carve out their unique comedic identity in this evolving landscape. While the field has become smaller compared to its heyday, it still boasts a remarkable array of talent. Below, we’ve ranked the best late-night talk show hosts from least to most exceptional.
Jimmy Fallon, ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’
Once again, the affable host finds himself lagging behind. Following his successful five-year stint as the anchor of “Late Night,” Fallon assumed the coveted position of hosting “The Tonight Show” in 2014. Throughout his tenure, he has found himself subject to a fair share of criticism, ranging from his somewhat lackluster interviewing skills, his frequent and perhaps overzealous laughter even in the absence of a joke, to his occasionally awkward navigation of the Trump presidency era. Fallon, undeniably a brilliant entertainer, was catapulted to fame during his tenure on Saturday Night Live, yet his comedic style lacks the sharpness and edge often associated with late-night television. Nevertheless, for those seeking a more straightforward monologue and enjoyable games, a delightful evening can still be had.
Andy Cohen, ‘Watch What Happens Live’
No one has been on the late-night hosting scene longer than Andy Cohen, except for Jimmy Kimmel. Since 2009, Cohen has been the charismatic host of “Watch What Happens Live,” an impressive tenure that has solidified his place in the entertainment world. Beyond his hosting duties, Cohen’s career has spanned various roles, from a news producer to a guest appearance on news shows. Many recognize him as the mastermind behind the popular “Real Housewives” franchise, where he serves as the executive producer, and he even took the reins for a revived version of “Love Connection.”
However, it’s on “Watch What Happens Live” where Cohen truly shines. What started as a modest weekend show has evolved into a beloved weeknight staple for fans. Cohen’s unique hosting style sets the show apart, as he doesn’t confine himself to a desk, opting for a more intimate and engaging approach to celebrity interviews and discussions. With his witty banter and star-studded guests, Cohen’s “Watch What Happens Live” continues to grow in popularity and influence.
Jimmy Kimmel, ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’
Jimmy Kimmel, the longest-serving host on our list, has been entertaining audiences since 2003. Starting with a more immature sense of humor, his act has evolved to include both humor and moments of depth, with tears shed on air, addressing American tragedies, and his son’s health. He’s also been a vocal critic of Trump. Yet, he maintains his quick wit with guests, featuring popular segments like “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship” and “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets.” And his ongoing feud with Matt Damon remains a consistent source of humor.
Seth Meyers, ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’
Former Saturday Night Live cast member Seth Meyers assumed the role of late-night host in 2014, following Jimmy Fallon. His tenure as co-host of “Weekend Update” alongside Tina Fey proved to be invaluable preparation for the late-night realm. While his show faced initial challenges, it eventually struck gold with the immensely popular “A Closer Look” and “Day Drinking” segments, featuring Meyers imbibing in daylight hours with a diverse range of guests.
In a manner akin to Jon Stewart’s approach on The Daily Show and John Oliver’s on Last Week Tonight, Meyers selects current, headline-grabbing topics and dedicates fifteen minutes to thorough dissection. This is where Meyers excels, tapping into his SNL comedic sensibilities. While “Late Night with Seth Meyers” predominantly deals with politics, it maintains a balanced tone with ample humor.
Meyers’ interviewing skills, though not quite on par with Stephen Colbert’s, lead to engaging conversations with a broad spectrum of guests, from Hollywood celebrities to prominent world leaders.
Amber Ruffin, ‘The Amber Ruffin Show’
Amber Ruffin stands out as the lone woman and person of color among the notable absentees like Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah in the late-night television lineup. Her rise to fame commenced as a writer on Seth Meyers’ Late Night, where she not only penned clever content but also occasionally took the helm for her segments, including “Amber Says What?!” and “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell.” Her high energy, sharp wit, and fresh perspective endeared her to fans.
Amber Ruffin’s ability to address complex issues of race and gender without being perceived as angry, unlike some of her white counterparts, set her apart. This unique approach injected a sense of fun into late-night television. Her success led to her own show, “The Amber Ruffin Show,” which ran for three seasons on NBC and Peacock, with her last regular episode airing in 2022. While her show isn’t canceled, it will return in a special episode format in the future. In an industry where diversity is valued, Amber Ruffin’s presence remains vital, leaving many eager for more of her in late-night TV.
John Oliver, ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’
The well-established The Daily Show correspondent and former fill-in host made his HBO debut in 2014 to widespread acclaim. He stands out as the one who most closely resembles his former boss, Jon Stewart, and carries Stewart’s legacy with great confidence. In each episode, he provides the usual coverage of recent news events from the past week, but the most substantial portion of the show is the main segment, where Oliver delves deep into a single topic. This subject could be a widely discussed issue like COVID or Critical Race Theory, or it could be a less-publicized topic such as the power grid or union-busting. Regardless of the subject at hand, viewers can rest assured that they will not only be entertained with laughter but also educated in the process. Oliver’s takedowns and calls for action carry significant weight, thanks to the heightened impact of his once-a-week format. This allows the issues he discusses to linger in our collective consciousness rather than being quickly replaced by the next day’s news.
Stephen Colbert, ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’
Colbert, the reigning champion of late-night television, has a storied career that traces back to his roots on The Daily Show and extends through his impressive ten-year tenure on the award-winning program, The Colbert Report. When he stepped into the shoes of the legendary David Letterman in 2015, it proved to be a more formidable challenge than anyone had anticipated. The transition was marked by Colbert’s struggle to shed his grumpy conservative persona, one that had become a hallmark of his comedic identity.
However, it was during the tumultuous Trump era that Colbert truly found his stride and emerged as a dominant force in the late-night landscape. He achieved this by embracing his authentic self, departing from his earlier satirical persona and instead channeling the essence of rationality and insight that was sorely needed during that time. In many ways, he filled the void left by Jon Stewart, who had previously been the nightly voice of reason.
Colbert’s talent extends beyond his monologues; his interviews are equally captivating. He possesses the ability to engage in lighthearted banter with the best of them, but it is his more profound discussions with journalists and experts, as well as his heartfelt conversations with notable figures such as President Biden and Andrew Garfield, that truly set him apart. These moments of sincere connection, often delving into shared experiences of loss and other deeply personal subjects, underscore Colbert’s mastery of his craft and cement his status as the premier late-night host in the industry.
- The article “Late-Night Comedy: A Transformative Era of Hosts and their Impact” explores the changing landscape of late-night television, with iconic hosts like David Letterman and Jon Stewart stepping down and newer faces taking the stage.
- The late-night genre has evolved, moving away from host rivalries and focusing on political and social commentary, notably during the era of Donald Trump. Some hosts embraced politics as their defining brand, while others maintained a lighthearted, feel-good approach.
- The article ranks notable late-night hosts, highlighting their unique comedic styles and contributions to the late-night comedy world. Hosts such as Jimmy Fallon, Andy Cohen, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Amber Ruffin, John Oliver, and Stephen Colbert are featured.
- Hosts like Jimmy Fallon are known for their affable personalities but have faced criticism for their interviewing skills and comedic sharpness. However, they continue to provide enjoyable monologues and games.
- The late-night landscape also welcomes diversity, with hosts like Amber Ruffin, who addresses complex issues with a fresh perspective, and John Oliver, who educates and entertains in his deep-dive segments. Stephen Colbert is recognized as a champion who excels in both monologues and interviews, especially in heartfelt discussions with notable figures.
Micajah McGregor, Editor in Chief of FanFest.com and renowned entertainment journalist, graduated from USC with a focus on Journalism and Film Studies. With an MBA from The Wharton School, he began his career at “PopCulture Pulse” and has been instrumental in shaping FanFest into a prime entertainment news source. Known for his financial analysis of celebrity net worths, Micajah received the ‘Digital Editor of the Year’ award in 2018. He’s also an active blogger, sharing his passion for superhero films and ’90s TV. Contact him at [email protected] for engaging entertainment insights.