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Late-Night TV 2016: Donald Trump Vs. Carpool Karaoke & North Korea

Deadline logo Deadline 12/31/2016 Lisa de Moraes
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Late-night TV was consumed with Donald Trump in 2016. Because a reality TV star-turned-presidential candidate who most closely resembles a self-absorbed Creamsicle, boasts of his penis, his “very good brain,” and his ability to grab women “by the p*ssy,” promises his followers he will pay their legal bills if they attack a rally protester, and calls his Democratic opponent a “nasty woman” during a nationally televised debate, is a man best covered by late-night comics.

Lucky thing too, what with TV news operations covering Trump as if they’d been hit on the head by something blunt and heavy at the exact moment they were slipping on a banana peel. Understandably the new responsibilities meant late-night hosts came in for some of the criticism usually directed at their news-division colleagues. ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, for instance, was accused by America’s Busiest Alt-Right Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones of tampering with a pickle jar to help Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton:

And NBC’s The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon was accused of complicity in mussing the hair of the Cheetos-colored provocateur without grilling him on his politics:

Which is not to say late-night lacked for heated election-year exchanges. HBO’s Bill Maher lit into Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for leaking only DNC emails without also hacking Donald Trump’s tax returns. “We’re working on it,” Assange shot back, only to have Wikileaks issue a statement that Assange’s remark was intended to be a joke, demonstrating that comedy is hard:

More recently, after the election, Trevor Noah debated TheBlaze’s Tomi Lahren, who talks super-fast and has therefore become an online star with her takes on Trump and Black Lives Matter. It was a shrewd booking for Noah, who still is figuring out his The Daily Show voice:

Late Night’sSeth Meyers took a strong stand against Trump’s banning of the Washington Post from campaign events. Meyers also was the only TV outlet to actually put to the test a theory that gained heat during the race: that Trump did not actually want to be POTUS:

And while some TV news outlets were trading in fake news, Full Frontal’s Samantha Bee actually showed viewers how it’s done, whipping up her own conspiracy theory about Trump being functionally illiterate:

A late-night star was born when “Melania Trump,” (aka Laura Benanti) visited Stephen Colbert’s Late Show during the Republican National Convention to deny portions of her opening day keynote speech had been lifted from a Michelle Obama DNC address eight years earlier:

Colbert later pointed out some security issues at the Democratic National Convention:

And, for ominous foreboding, you could not beat Colbert’s interview with Huma Abedin’s husband Anthony Weiner during LateShow’s DNC week broadcasts — late-night TV’s version of introducing the knife in Act 1:

Bee provided the all-important female perspective when the interesting pussy-grabbing motif was introduced to the White House race (this one’s definitely NSFW, unless you’re wearing earbuds):

And Meyers provided an important postmortem to that first debate of the general election, immediately following the release of that Access Hollywood tape:

Late Late Show’sJames Corden, meanwhile, earned nation’s gratitude for staying out of the fray and instead providing much needed musical distraction:

…including the wildly successful Carpool Karaoke, for which Corden was showered with Emmys in the fall:

Conan O’Brien also largely eschewed presidential politics, yet inserted himself into some significant political stories. After last year becoming the first American late-night show to film in Cuba since the U.S. embargo on that country began in 1962, Conan this year took more international road trips, including, very briefly, to North Korea:

In the midst of all the election cycle madness, Nightly Show’s Larry Wilmore upstaged President Obama at his final White House Correspondents Dinner, which probably also marked the last WHCD at which a Comedy Central late-night star provides entertainment, given Wilmore’s incendiary ending, on the heels of Colbert’s scorched-earth performance a decade earlier:

Wilmore explained his WHCD performance on his next Nightly Show. It did not seem to help:

Colbert, now on CBS, tried something new on Election Night: a live Showtime special. But, having prepared, as he later admitted to CBS News’ John Dickerson, for every eventuality except Trump winning the electoral college count as Colbert was broadcasting live, Stephen Colbert’s Live Election Night Democracy’s Series Finale: Who’s Going to Clean Up This Sh*t?  devolved into an unholy mess:

The next day, Bee explained all the stages of their grief to her viewers, while asking the important question: “How did everyone get this so spectacularly wrong?”:

But, in his final episode of 2016, it was HBO’s John Oliver who best summed up how we got here:

Throughout 2016, late-night TV navel lint gazers bemoaned the fact that Jon Stewart, the dean of late-night political satire, had cashed out before Trumpocalypse really got into full swing; some even blamed Stewart for Trump’s win. Reminding fans how much they’d lost, The Ghost of Jon Stewart kept popping up across the late night landscape:

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