Late-Night Comedy Shows Went from Star-Studded Fun to Scripted Political Ads

Watch, if you can, this moment from New York Congresscritter Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez while on the “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” as she talks about the supreme court’s “overreach.” Pay attention to her demeanor, cadence of speech, hand gestures, and body language.

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Now, watch this back and forth between two late-night legends, Jay Leno and Johnny Carson. Notice the framing of the two stars, how they sit, where they frame their shoulders and even their hand gestures.

 

Right off the bat, you’ll likely notice some major differences. Carson and Leno are relaxed and engaged with one another. They’re having fun. Despite being on-air, they’re not on the job. They’re not even technically addressing the audience but the audience is welcomed into the conversation, as they’re gestured to from time to time. This was a fascinating conversation about airlines that could have just as easily have been held between two old friends sitting in a backyard with bourbon and cigars.

AOC is not relaxed. She is on the job. She’s addressing the audience directly, only giving Colbert mere moments before returning her full frame to the audience. She has her palms together, pointing all of her fingers at the audience. Her cadence gives away the fact that she’s not answering a question improvisationally or engaging in random conversation, she’s saying something she’s practiced beforehand.

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Carson and Leno are having an improvisational chat while allowing their personalities to make it entertaining for others to listen to. AOC is giving a TED Talk. It’s highly unlikely that Carson and Leno knew they would be talking about airlines before this segment began, or even if they knew the topic, there was no script to it. AOC, in order to be able to deliver her practiced moment, did know it was coming up and had this little speech ready to go.

Let’s look at another example that is improved but still pre-prepared. Here’s Maya Hawke, one of the stars of Stranger Things, talking to host Jimmy Fallon of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” about the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v Wade. Hawke didn’t have a script to follow, but she does have bumper sticker lines she needs to use such as “access to safe and legal healthcare,” and “fundamental healthcare.”

She’s nervous, she’s balled up with her shoulders which are pointed directly at Fallon as if she’s trying to pretend he’s the only one in the room, and she’s consistently looking down. She knows she has to say these things but she doesn’t have a script in front of her so she bumbles and pauses her way through it. Her hands help her as she consistently turns them palms up, which works naturally to make her more trustworthy in the eyes of the listener, but she waves them around wildly as they help her get the words out, betraying her nervousness.

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Given, she maintains many nervous gestures after the speech (fidgety, clenching hands, random closed mouth movements), but once they move into more fun territory her shoulders open up toward the audience more.

This isn’t to say Hawke doesn’t truly believe what’s she saying nor didn’t actually want to say it, but this was definitely an on-the-job moment. This was a scripted unscripted moment. Bringing up abortion was something that everyone knew was going to happen, but it was left up to Fallon and Hawke as to how that was going to go down. Hawke’s “f**k the Supreme Court” quote even came off as something like a manufactured line to add punch to her monologue. It was a line they could use for headlines and social media quotes to get people to click, watch, and listen.

Late-night programs used to be about kicking back after a long day and having some lighthearted fun before bed. Now it’s about selling political messaging, specifically in short bites made for TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. It’s about the sale of leftist ideas and “virtues.”

More importantly, it’s about selling them to young millennials and Gen Z. AOC’s primary superpower is that she has the attention of the younger generations. Hawke is admittedly one of the best parts of the 4th season of Stranger Things and she’s captured the nation’s attention. Her saying this stuff will carry weight.

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Sad to say, the late-night comedy show that was is dead. These are now propaganda delivery systems cosplaying as the once great programs they’re descended from. Their purpose is to bolster activism, politicians, and party-line politics.

While it is sad, it’s not the end. At some point, the get woke, go broke effect comes for everything.

 

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