Best of Late Night 2022: A Rebuilding Year

After a year of significant change, as hosts like Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee signed off, the future of late-night TV has never seemed more uncertain.

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By Trish Bendix

The landscape of late night has changed significantly since the beginning of 2022, with the departures of several hosts and the end of two weekly shows.

With audiences and advertising revenue dwindling, networks are in a precarious place. By the end of the year, the diversity of a format long known as a white-guy haven had dwindled even further, and the future of late night was ever more uncertain amid the growing dominance of on-demand streaming, where topical monologue fodder has little value and talk-show experiments have repeatedly failed.

Trevor Noah, for one, was ready to try something else. In November, he shocked viewers and colleagues by saying he would step away from “The Daily Show” after seven years as host. He said that he wanted to devote more time to stand-up, and debuted a new Netflix special and a tour during his last few weeks on air.

Noah signed off on Dec. 8 with a tearful exit thanking supporters as well as the Black women who raised him, giving them credit for his success.

“I’ve often been credited with, you know, having these grand ideas. People will be like, ‘Oh, Trevor, you are so smart.’ And I’m like, who do you think teaches me? You know? Who do you think has shaped me, nourished me and formed me? From my mom, my gran, my aunts, all these Black women in my life, but then in America as well. I always tell people, if you truly want to learn about America, talk to Black women. Yeah, because unlike everybody else, Black women can’t afford to [expletive] around and find out.” — TREVOR NOAH

Comedy Central announced that an array of famous funny people will fill in until a permanent replacement for Noah can be found. The guest host lineup includes Wanda Sykes, Chelsea Handler, Kal Penn, Al Franken, Sarah Silverman, D. L. Hughley, John Leguizamo, Hasan Minhaj, Marlon Wayans and Leslie Jones.

Noah wasn’t the only host who decided to leave: In April, James Corden announced that he would depart “The Late Late Show” sometime in 2023.

CBS hasn’t announced plans for a replacement for Corden, who this fall seemed to be preparing for life after late night by returning to his acting roots. He starred in the Amazon dramedy “Mammals,” which premiered in November.

Unfortunately for him, the show’s debut was overshadowed by a slightly ridiculous mini-controversy involving accusations of rude behavior at a restaurant, which Corden eventually was forced to address on air.

“I have been walking around thinking that I hadn’t done anything wrong, right? But the truth is, like, I have — I made a rude comment and it was wrong, and it was an unnecessary comment. It was ungracious to the server.” — JAMES CORDEN

This year also saw the end of Showtime’s Bronx buddy comedy, “Desus & Mero.” The show shifted its format and time slot several times over four seasons before signing off in July after an apparent falling out between the two co-hosts.

Another well-regarded late-night show came to an end in July, albeit involuntarily. TBS canceled “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” which won its second Emmy two months later, in the short-form category.

Trevor Noah’s 7 Years on “The Daily Show”

The host, who took the reins of the show from Jon Stewart in 2015, exposed America’s many blind spots through witty and passionate commentary.

At the Creative Arts Emmy ceremony, where that award was announced, the staff expressed hope that the show would be picked up elsewhere. So far there have been no takers, and Bee’s departure leaves Amber Ruffin as late night’s sole female host, with her “Amber Ruffin Show” maintaining its Friday night spot on Peacock.

Which leaves the broadcast big guns, the white guys, most of whom will be under contract for several more years. Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers are all staying put for now, and will likely spend 2023 desperately trying (and often failing) to make jokes about anything other than the former president.

Insurrection reflection

The fallout from the Capitol riot has been a late-night focus all year, with Colbert going live after the first night of televised hearings held by the Jan. 6 committee. Colbert presupposed the hearings would be “this summer’s most compelling drama,” but the hosts decided the proceedings just weren’t hot enough for prime time.

“What they need to do, you want people to watch in America, is you have to spice things up. You know, have a kiss cam going for the witnesses. Yeah, get Shakira to do a halftime show.” — TREVOR NOAH

“The hearing is being produced by a former ABC executive, which is why it’s being marketed as, ‘Extreme Takeover: Capitol Building Edition.’” — JAMES CORDEN

Not long after the hearings began in June, some “Late Show” staff members were arrested at the Capitol complex while filming a segment featuring Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and the comedian Robert Smigel, who voices the puppet, but the charges were dropped in July.

“The Capitol Police are much more cautious than they were, say, 18 months ago, and for a very good reason. If you don’t know what that reason is, I know what news network you watch.” — STEPHEN COLBERT

Trump TV

Trump may have left office in 2021, but he continued to be a part of the news cycle even beyond his involvement with Jan. 6. Topics like his continued denial of the election results and his company’s fraudulent tax schemes frequently dominated late-night monologues, the hosts unable to resist low-hanging fruit like the news, in February, that he had been dropped by his longtime accounting firm.

“Now he’s going to need someone else to do his taxes. I suggest H&R Cellblock.” — STEPHEN COLBERT

“I’d say he needs a good lawyer, but that’s been true for a while now.” — SETH MEYERS

Hosts also kept on top of news out of Mar-a-Lago, particularly the revelation, in August, that Trump had taken classified documents from the White House and kept them for himself. (He claimed he had “declassified” them.)

“Let me just break down Trump’s defense: He says the F.B.I. planted fake evidence to frame him, and now he wants them to return the fake evidence. Even O.J. is like, ‘Yo, bro, you wildin.’” — DESUS NICE, guest hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live”

“How do you explain this to our allies? ‘Don’t worry, Prime Minister, your country’s nuclear secrets are perfectly, safely stored at the Mar-a-Lago waffle bar between the syrup and the Nutella bucket.’” — STEPHEN COLBERT

“Imagine being a guest at Mar-a-Lago and using the bathroom, and out of the corner of your eye you just notice something and are you like, ‘Hang on, is that — is that Norway’s nuclear codes?’” — JAMES CORDEN

“Trump’s argument is that you can just declassify things in your mind. It’s officially declassified as long as you believe it’s declassified. That’s according to Trump’s new legal adviser, Tinkerbell.” — SETH MEYERS

Trump’s 2024 campaign announcement was both expected and lackluster, something Kimmel called “the moment none of us have been waiting for.” It was quickly followed by his widely covered dinner with Kanye West and the white nationalist Nick Fuentes.

“Now, just in case ‘Holocaust denier’ doesn’t get the point across, Fuentes is not a good guy. He has spread antisemitic conspiracies, he is considered a white supremacist by the Anti-Defamation League, attended the Unite the Right in Charlottesville in 2017 and the Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 6. That is the alt-right EGOT, as in, EGOT zero hugs as a child.” — STEPHEN COLBERT

“You know it’s a bad sign when Kanye West is only the third most controversial person at your dinner table.” — JIMMY KIMMEL

Brace for impact

With Georgia a key state in the midterms, Noah took “The Daily Show” to Atlanta for a week of shows, with guests like Stacey Abrams, the ultimately unsuccessful Democratic candidate for governor. Noah’s monologues were more like his stand-up than his usual desk fare, suggesting the stage is where he truly shines.

While some midterm candidates attempted to distance themselves from Trump, others embraced the association, which didn’t always work out. Late-night hosts homed in on two such candidates in particular: Dr. Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker.

“On the bright side, Dr. Oz now can go back to doing what he does best, which is analyzing the shape and color of our stool.” — JIMMY KIMMEL

“A former girlfriend of Republican Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker claimed in a new interview that Walker paid for her to get an abortion in 2009. And the only way that will hurt him with Republicans is if some of that money went to pay down her student loans.” — SETH MEYERS

A ‘devastating’ decision

Reproductive rights were a hot late-night topic in 2022, spurred by the leak of a Supreme Court decision challenging Roe v. Wade and then the eventual ruling, in June, overturning it. Chelsea Handler, guest hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” discussed her abortions during her monologue, while Meyers brought on Alexis McGill Johnson, the CEO of Planned Parenthood, to discuss the decision’s implications and potential solutions with three of the show’s female writers.

Samantha Bee delayed a summer hiatus and went on air while she had Covid to address the “devastating” decision.

“It’s not just about voting in November. It’s about doing everything in our power to help vulnerable people access abortion across state lines. And we have to raise hell in our cities, in Washington, in every restaurant Justice Alito eats in for the rest of his life. Because if Republicans have made our lives hell, it’s time to return the favor.” — SAMANTHA BEE

Reclaiming her time

Kimmel has been a champion of Quinta Brunson, reuniting the “Abbott Elementary” creator and star with her inspirational sixth-grade teacher in an early 2022 episode. But when Kimmel appeared at the Emmys, many viewers were less than thrilled with his refusal to leave the stage during a bit that took time and space away from Brunson’s big win for outstanding writing for a comedy series.

Kimmel then apologized to Brunson on his show, offering her the chance to interrupt his monologue and continue delivering her thank-yous.

Alternative views

Noah scored a coup near the end of his run on “The Daily Show,” landing the first sit-down interview in which Will Smith substantively discussed his Oscars slap of Chris Rock. But it was Noah’s frank discussion of the late Queen Elizabeth II that illustrated just how different a perspective he brought to late night. While hosts like Corden, a Brit, gave sad remembrances of the matriarch upon her death, Noah addressed how the British Empire’s colonialism affected people in Africa and India and shaped their perceptions of her reign. “You can’t expect the oppressed to mourn the oppressor,” he said.

“And I know some people would say ‘Look, Trevor, the queen wasn’t really in charge. She’s just a figurehead. You can’t blame her for the atrocities the British Empire committed.’ Yeah, fair enough, but you also understand in her entire reign, she never repented, she never once made amends, right? There wasn’t even one, like, Notes app apology on her Twitter — nothing!” — TREVOR NOAH

Best of the rest

The Jimmys played a joke on their audiences, switching shows for April Fools’ Day and pranking fans.

“Hi, I’m Jimmy. Please, please settle down, you’re going to offend the other Jimmy.” — JIMMY FALLON, hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live”

“We swapped everything — we swapped shows, bands, even wives. Bad news, Nancy, Fat Jimmy’s coming home.” — JIMMY KIMMEL, hosting “The Tonight Show”

Corden took “The Late Late Show” to London, where he invited Lizzo for a spin on “Carpool Karaoke.” It was a memorable installment of the segment viewers will surely miss most when Corden leaves next year.

Finally, Jon Batiste, a five-time Grammy winner, sat down for the Colbert Questionnaire before taking what was described at the time as a hiatus from his post as the “Late Show” bandleader.

Batiste ultimately decided not to return to the show, his TV home for seven seasons. It was one more late-night departure in a year largely defined by them.

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