Late-night funnymen Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert stopped cracking jokes about President Trump and turned dead serious this week, inserting themselves into the political conversation and pushing their own agendas.
Both made headlines — Kimmel with his heartfelt and very personal comments about health care access, and Colbert with his angry takedown of the president for cutting off a CBS News interview in the Oval Office and ridiculing the show to the interviewer’s face.
But will the attention cost Kimmel and Colbert some fans? Or will they have the last laugh?
“Late-night TV has gone the way of the rest of television – left,” said Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture at the Media Research Center.
“Close to 30 different TV shows attacked Trump leading up to the election. Now that Trump won, Hollywood wants all of them to abuse him. Conservatives know what these shows have become and would be wise to find better entertainment options.”
But Dr. Montana Miller, associate professor of the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, said it’s hardly shocking to see Colbert express his political views.
“Colbert has always been extremely political, not just on his show but in public life,” Miller said. “Think of his performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”
As for Kimmel, only a heartless person would criticize his monologue about his newborn son’s emergency heart surgery, Miller said.
“I am sure that Kimmel’s employers must realize they have a gem in their late-night host. To say that he injected his personal agenda into a political issue would be repugnant."
Late-night hosts generally played it safe in the past, but present-day TV personalities like Kimmel and Colbert have to take sides, said Scott Pinsker, a media and branding expert.
“Late-night TV personalities like Carson and Leno used to play to the middle, but this is a dramatically different media culture. Everyone now has a base, and if you fall outside of it, you can quickly become the target of ridicule and insults.
“The media landscape is so hopelessly divided, late-night TV hosts are trying to maximize the loyalty of their core demos. It's an 'us versus them' mentality.
“Today,” Pinsker said, “it's all about cultivating a core group of ultra-loyal fans and encouraging them to share your content across various social media platforms. The days of playing to the middle are over."