Comedian and Late Night Host Responses to the NFL Protests

Garland Wells

Late night talk shows have always been a fascinating niche in the world of television, melding comedy, politics and headline recaps to create a wholly malleable and perpetually relevant format. Shows like SNL have secured their place in the all time canon of television by offering weekly lampoons of the serious current events that have plagued the country over the previous seven days. There has also been an evolution of late night interview based shows like “The Tonight Show with _____” that began with Johnny Carson. Eventually we arrived at “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” which has become the standard for satirical political talk shows. All of this has served to create the perfect format for stand-up comedians and satirists to create a vehicle show during which it is almost expected of the the host to offer quips with regard to the latest scandals and controversies in the world of politics. Jon Stewart, and later Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher, made names for themselves by carving out personalities that offered some sort of relatability to the American people that were watching. In other words, these hosts got their fame by pointing out the fallacious absurdities the government commits on a weekly basis, and provides their audiences the same feeling one gets when they are on the good side of an inside joke.

The late night hosts of the present have truly gotten some of the most benefit out of the unfortunate outcome of the most recent election (2016) as the president’s constant missteps have provided endless fodder for the rapid fire one-liners that are a mainstay in the late night monologue. This was especially true when Trump publicly addressed the recent National Anthem kneeling protests that began with Colin Kaepernick. The president was speaking to an enthused crowd and said that the next time a player kneeled that the NFL should “Get that son of a bitch off the field! He’s fired! You’re fired!” which was likely seen as a godsend across various writer’s rooms of late night shows. Indeed that specific comment was the most widely cited one amongst all the collected monologues touching on the NFL issue. That list includes all the major network programs except for Jimmy Kimmel’s, whose monologue still focused on Trump. Trevor Noah and John Oliver also discussed the president’s remarks and they made full use of the wider content parameters of Comedy Central and HBO, respectively, to usher harsher rhetoric damning the speech. Below is a breakdown of each comedian’s remarks starting with the major network shows.

“The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”: Fallon took a critical eye at the many contradictions that Trump seems to spout out and questioned Trump’s slanted view on how the NFL should implement its rules. Fallon began to discuss “Trump’s Rules for the NFL” which attacked the constant firing (“sacking”) of White House officials, constant labelling of “fake news”, and clear bias between him and hosts of “Fox and Friends”. Fallon tends to be the tamest of the bunch.

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and “The Late Late Show with James Corden”: Both of these men took the most issue with the president’s obvious hypocrisy when it comes to how the flag should be respected. Corden quipped that it was a bizarre sentiment coming from a man who sells “American flag beer koozies”. Oliver took a crasser approach showing off a photo of Trump essentially rubbing his genitals up against a large American flag. Oliver has become something of a bearer of the torch that was begun by Jon Stewart, despite Stewart’s replacement being good in his own right, and many liberal Americans lean on Oliver’s biting commentary and rule free ranting on the president’s ill-advised moves. Oliver showcases tweets from Kaepernick’s mother, other players, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that all condemned the president’s remarks creating a sense of widespread disapproval.

“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”: Both of these segments touched on the major issue for many at the heart of this NFL discourse, which is the underlying sense that there is racism afoot. It is interesting to compare the monologues of two men of differing races. Trevor Noah’s comments in two separate segments are scathing in their anti-Trump sentiments, especially when he begins to use a simple rhyming poem reminiscent of Dr. Seuss. It is transcribed in the recap included from the LA Times. Noah questions when it will be the ‘correct’ time for black people to protest, and if this is not an acceptable way to peacefully protest…what is? Stephen Colbert goes for the deepest punch though when he flat out states that not only is this current issue one regarding race, but Trump’s entire presidential campaign, and subsequent presidency, have been about race as well. His nine minute monologue is a complete spewing of disdain Trump. And it is wonderful.

Sources: “Forget a knee. President Trump took it on the chin from late-night TV over his NFL comments”

“Stand-up comedy: Late-night hosts fire barbs at Donald Trump over NFL protest criticism”