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For more than thirty years I have been a comedy practitioner, and for more than forty years I have been a student of late night comedy. From Tonight to Late Night to The Late Late Show, and from the big three networks to cable channels, I can trace the lineages: from Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Seth Meyers back through Jay Leno and David Letterman (the fighting Cain and Abel brothers), back to Johnny Carson, who reworked Dick Cavett and Jack Paar. I have followed comedy family tree offshoots, such as Craig Ferguson and Conan O’Brien. Now as an older adult learner who thinks 10 p.m. is pushing it, I am especially grateful for the timely refinements of TiVo, Hulu, and YouTube.
Of course, I have happily followed the career trajectories of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central, and Bill Maher on HBO, but they’re on cable, and the networks’ belief that network late night is superior to cable still abides. For now.
For five decades, the late night show memes of desk, fake microphone, monologue, interview, and musical or animal guest have basically remained the same. The sixth meme, the white man, has also held sway. Joan Rivers, Paula Poundstone, Wanda Sykes, Whoopi Goldberg—all tried and failed. Chelsea Handler has slyly repurposed the word “late” with her evening show, Chelsea Lately, but, again, it’s on cable.
The latest crop of comics, Fallon and Meyers, were welcomed to their new night jobs with Olympic coverage that made them more viral than Bob Costas’s pink eyes.
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This column from The Progressive (April 2014) was written by Kate “Lumosity Grad” Clinton, a humorist.