Making the Monologue Funny Again


The opening monologue is the staple of all late-night talk shows. It is the icebreaker that helps set the tone for the program. It helps prepare the audience for what comes next, whether it be a comedy sketch or other interactions meant to lighten the mood, as well as the celebrity interviews and the musical interludes that fill the commercial breaks.

Johnny Carson and Jay Leno and David Letterman did good opening monologues that occasionally touched the edges of politics. It was a very light touch. And it was never mean-spirited. Did the president do something funny? They talked about it briefly, tossed out one or two or three quick jokes, but they moved on to lighter fare. After all, from around 6:00 p.m. until around 11:30 p.m. viewers had been bombarded with local news, national news, and other stories that affected their lives. The opening monologue was a chance to put the politics behind them and laugh at something funny for a change, and those shows did a good job finding absurdities of daily life at which to poke fun. On one show, viewers were encouraged to send in newspaper clips that allowed audiences to laugh at small-town America. We got to be the butt of a joke and we all took it in good humor.

Over the last two presidential administrations, something happened that has hurt the opening monologue. Few late-night hosts were willing to make Barak Obama the subject of a joke, for he was no laughing matter. However, since Donald Trump’s 2016 run for the White House, these same late-night hosts have done nothing but plague him for every little thing. “Cofefe” became a running gag after the president misspelled “coffee”. Never mind that everyone has made typos before, and not every typo gets corrected before the ‘SEND’ button is clicked. I’ve made typos before and caught them after posting, and was able to edit the post. But I haven’t caught every single typo. A good reader will let me know about the mistake and it gets corrected. Then we move on.

Late night hosts do not move on. They keep joking about the mistake the president makes well past its freshness dating. The monologue is boring enough to put me to sleep. We heard about the president and the speaker-of-the-house and the majority leaders and the issues facing us on the federal, state, and local levels. It’s going on midnight and we don’t need to hear any more about those things. We are ready to laugh at ourselves for a while. It’s our turn. We can take it.