Trump in­spires a golden age of late-night com­edy

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - LU­CAS SHAW AND NI­COLE PIPER

Af­ter strug­gling through much of his first year as host of “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah is scor­ing his best rat­ings since tak­ing over for Jon Ste­wart in late 2015. Thank you, Mr. Pres­i­dent.

Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion has been a boon for co­me­di­ans ready and will­ing to mock an ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­dain­ful of the me­dia and the lib­er­als who pop­u­late the coun­try’s me­dia capitals.

From “Satur­day Night Live” to HBO’s Bill Ma­her, com­edy shows are at­tract­ing view­ers in num­bers not seen in years. Noah has been one of the big­gest ben­e­fi­cia­ries, with rat­ings for his Com­edy Cen­tral show up 9 per cent from a year ago as young view­ers tune in for his nightly take­downs of the pres­i­dent and his cabi­net.

“When pol­i­tics is at its worst, it’s the best con­di­tion for com­edy in gen­eral and late night hosts in par­tic­u­lar,” Kent Al­ter­man, pres­i­dent of Com­edy Cen­tral, said in an in­ter­view. “Good com­edy is al­ways re­act­ing to and re­flect­ing the world we live in. When things be­come more ex­treme, as they have in our coun­try, there is some­thing ther­a­peu­tic about com­edy.”

Like Noah, Stephen Col­bert strug­gled in his 2015 tran­si­tion to “The Late Show” on CBS from Com­edy Cen­tral. But he has gar­nered ac­claim — along with new view­ers — with his re­cent po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary and has sur­passed “The Tonight Show Star­ring Jimmy Fal­lon” as the most-watched latenight pro­gram three weeks in a row, thanks to a 6 per cent rat­ings jump this year and a 17 per cent drop for his ri­val on Com­cast Corp.’s NBC net­work.

For­mer “Daily Show” correspondent Sa­man­tha Bee has more than dou­bled her au­di­ence in a sec­ond sea­son of “Full Frontal” on TBS. HBO’s Ma­her has thrived as well, gar­ner­ing 5.5 mil­lion view­ers per episode — the big­gest au­di­ence since 2003, his first year on HBO.

No show has irked Trump as much as NBC’s “Satur­day Night Live,” which re­cruited Alec Bald­win to im­per­son­ate him and Melissa McCarthy to play press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer. McCarthy’s Feb. 11 im­per­son­ation of “Spicey” has been viewed more than 13 mil­lion times on YouTube. That night’s episode of “SNL” de­liv­ered its big­gest au­di­ence in eight years, con­tribut­ing to the show’s best sea­son in more than 20 years.

“Au­di­ences are crav­ing more po­lit­i­cal con­tent, but they also are crav­ing more pro­gres­sive con­tent,” said David Craig, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­age­ment at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s An­nen­berg School. “It’s like colour com­men­tary on this re­al­ity show called Wash­ing­ton.”

Com­edy isn’t the only ben­e­fi­ciary of Trump’s win. Con­ser­va­tives gave Fox News a big rat­ings boost dur­ing the cam­paign, and the net­work con­tin­ues to thrive. Au­di­ences have also em­braced es­capist fare like the cheery pro­gram­ming on HGTV and the ide­al­ism of movies like “La La Land” and “Hid­den Fig­ures.”

Noah’s rise be­gan when he ven­tured out­side his New York stu­dio to tape from the pres­i­den­tial con­ven­tions. It was at the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion in Cleve­land where the pos­si­bil­ity of a Trump pres­i­dency be­gan to dawn on much of the coun­try, in­clud­ing Noah, a South African who moved to the U.S. dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“The Daily Show” host has grown more com­fort­able and con­fi­dent since that trip, ac­cord­ing to Al­ter­man and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Steve Bodow. Noah be­gan tak­ing con­trol of putting to­gether the show and show­ing up ev­ery day with ideas for what to talk about.

“I’ve seen Trevor tran­si­tion from ob­serv­ing pol­i­tics mostly from the out­side to be­ing some­one who is much more in­side it without yield­ing or sac­ri­fic­ing his out­sider’s per­spec­tive,” Bodow said. “He’s been through this ex­pe­ri­ence with all of us now through the crazy pri­maries and con­ven­tions.”

One great test of whether a latenight host is res­onat­ing in the mod­ern era is whether clips get shared on­line. News web­sites posted clips of Ste­wart ev­ery day, while Fal­lon and James Cor­den, host of CBS’s “The Late Late Show,” de­sign sketches pri­mar­ily so they get passed around on so­cial me­dia.

Noah, whose au­di­ence is younger than Ste­wart’s, is mak­ing progress. The show’s ac­counts on YouTube, Twit­ter and In­sta­gram posted their fastest growth ever in Jan­uary, adding more than 500,000 fol­low­ers across those three plat­forms.

“He started find­ing his voice and his point of view.” Al­ter­man said. “We all felt it in­ter­nally, and then we started to find ev­i­dence of it with our au­di­ence.”


Trevor Noah of Com­edy Cen­tral’s “The Daily Show” has gained view­ers due to his re­cent po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary.

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