Seth Meyers wrapped his final “Late Night with Seth Meyers” of these conventions Thursday — make that Friday — and it was LIVE. No messy tape, or dubs, or post-edits or whatever else goes on in the control rooms of America’s late-night talk shows to make them seem funnier and better than they really are.
This was Meyers’ second live show — the first last week after Donald Trump’s acceptance speech — availing himself of relevance and immediacy:
“Morgan Freeman narrated” the Clinton promotional video Thursday night, “and for some reason, Hillary gave her speech as Morgan Freeman.”
Cut to picture of Freeman, in a perfectly white suit.
Meyers got fake-annoyed at her for co-opting the phrase “a closer look” (the name, of course, of “Late Night’s” “A Closer Look”):
“The next thing you know’s she going to start giving her speeches from behind a desk.”
There were a few more (extremely) topical jokes and then Meyers did one of those personal asides he is famous for — turning away from the anchor desk, addressing the camera — speaking for about a minute or so on why Trump is not releasing his tax returns:
“I think you’re not releasing your tax returns BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY. I think you don’t even have an accountant. I think you use TurboTax.”
The reason he’s running for president is because he “needs the $400,000 salary” ... ”for the free food” ... because Melania is insisting he finally get a job ...
And so on.
To co-opt a Trumpian word, it was terrific — funny, effortless, smart, and had absolutely nothing to do with Hillary or her white suit or her historic speech that had wrapped just a couple of hours before.
This proves two things: Meyers and “Late Night” didn’t really need to do a live show after all, because some jokes wear well regardless of live or tape.
The second, Trump is simply better material than Clinton. Always was. Always will be.
These last two weeks have been immensely important for three shows — “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (which has been live), “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” and, finally, “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”
The first two have something to prove — that with all the hype and expectations of their launch just under a year ago, neither has still quite entered the zeitgeist, or scrubbed away the yearning or disappointment of David Letterman or Jon Stewart fans (“Oh, Stephen, the real one, I guess I like you fine, but I wish you were David...or the fake Stephen.”)
Both are hosts of established shows and both are also hosts seeking their footing.
But “Late Night” and Meyers are different stories. Meyers has been the stealth late-night guy — nothing much to prove, and doesn’t care if you believe that or not. Nevertheless, he’s still the late late LATE night guy — plying his trade out there in the cool darkness of morning, while the fleets of Manhattan garbage trucks are yawing and groaning their way through the not-entirely-deserted streets while dodging the not-entirely-sober pedestrians.
Who’s watching this? Who cares?!
In fact, who cares are the fans. “Late Night” fans don’t seem to have any quibbles with this fare. Meyers is still Seth Meyers — only a better version of his “SNL” Seth Meyers. His show is exactly what you would expect it to be for someone like him — bespoke, and tailored precisely to his strengths. Weaknesses have been expunged. It’s a lean enterprise that doesn’t seem to need bells/whistles/kitsch/gimmickry that draws attention to itself, or is designed to move the restless hand of the hivemind to click on some specially designed clickbait.
He joked last night about Clinton’s catchy but daunting slash at Trump — the “midnight in America” line — saying, “frankly, it’s an insult to us who come on at 1 a.m. Midnight is not terrible.”
Not it’s not — not here, anyway.
These have been two excellent weeks for Meyers, and largely hidden from view. People (or critics) have been too busy talking about The Rebirth of Stephen Colbert, or the Return of Stephen Colbert, or The Banishment of Stephen Colbert — and good for Stephen Colbert, by the way.
But what they are missing is one of the most seamless shows on late-night television. The heart of this enterprise, of course, is “A Closer Look” — “Late Night’s” set piece that covers the day’s news.
It’s a rat-a-tat of setups and punchlines. It’s also the most efficient joke delivery machine in all of late night.
There are probably 20 jokes, give or take, over “Closer Look’s” eight-minute stretch, and almost every one of them these last two weeks has worked; not a single groaner, in fact. This batting average isn’t perfect — Seth Meyers and his writing staff aren’t some sort of late-night Ted Williams — but they have a very good ear for knowing what works, and what needs to be junked before it gets on the air.
Some jokes are simply amusing, some funny but — a guarantee — there will be at least one joke per “A Closer Look” that will be laugh-out-loud funny. And you’ll never know when it’s coming or what will be the substance of it.
Quick example: The other night, Meyers cited torrential rainstorms over Manhattan, spawning waterfalls in subways, which is the closest most Manhattanites will ever come to seeing nature, he quipped.
Amusing, fine, but what followed was the “out loud” part:
He turns to the camera, and becomes of those nature-smitten New Yorkers: “I saw the most beautiful waterfall last night — full of rats.”
“Late Night’s” “A Closer Look” segments are all online — you don’t have to stay up until 1 o’clock or whenever to see them. Check ‘em out for some of the smarter political humor on TV of the last two weeks.