Telling jokes in the wake of tragedy is the hardest job in television. Going on the air and trying to chat up celebrities, do your pre-planned bits and make us laugh looks like teeth-gritting work in the light of tragedies such as the murders of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub over the weekend.
But that’s what late night talk show hosts have to do more often than they (or we) would like. So, on Monday night they did just that. From Conan O’Brien to Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon and Samantha Bee, our nightly comedians did their shows, but only after expressing their rage, broken-heartedness and love, reminding us that in times like this its okay to remember, mourn, feel sad and laugh as we work through our grief.
Here’s a look at how they reacted to the shooting spree at the gay club that is being investigated as both a hate crime and possible terrorist attack:
One of the most cathartic responses came from Samantha Bee on Full Frontal, where she expressed her frustration at the mind-numbing inability to prevent these kind of gun-related mass killings. “After a massacre, the standard procedure is you stand on a stage and deliver some well-meaning words about how we will get through this together, how love wins, how love conquers hate,” she said. “And that is great. That is beautiful, but you know what? F— it. I am too angry for that. Love does not win unless we start loving each other enough to fix our f—ing problems.”
In fact, she asked her audience, is it okay if, instead of telling jokes, “I just scream for seven minutes until we go to commercial?,” noting that the shooter had allegedly beaten his ex-wife, been reported as homophobic and “unhinged” by a former co-worker and was investigated twice by the FBI over possible ties to radical groups, none of which disqualified him from buying high-powered weapons in the weeks before the massacre.
Conan O’Brien opened his show by tackling the horror head on and referring to the semi-automatic assault rifle used by the killer as “weapons of war [that] have no place in civilian life.” Not one to typically hit hard news, O’Brien said as a father or two he had to break format and share his opinions in this case. “Our goal, obviously, night after night, is to be funny and silly if you’re in the mood for that late at night,” he said. “However, sometimes events are so horrifying and bleak that to come out here and tell jokes, it’s not really possible. Tonight, sadly, is one of those nights.”
Instead of a monologue, Seth Meyers did a “Closer Look” segment in an attempt to bring some clarity to what happened. “Usually right now in the show, we would start with the monologue. We would tell you jokes about today’s news,” he said. “So much, though, of the news right now is dominated by the horrific events in Orlando, the attack on the LGBTQ community there. And so, we decided we would try to address that and, in addressing it, maybe help us all process it a little bit more, because I don’t know if we can ever fully understand it.” Meyers noted the incredible scenes of compassion that came out of the horror, including mile-long lines for blood donation as well as the mind-numbing inability of Congress to pass new common-sense gun legislation.
Like O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon tends to avoid hard news on The Tonight Show, looking at this latest tragedy as both a confused American and a father struggling to explain such acts to his child. Fallon searched for some answers or a sign in the senseless violence that has once again focused attention on the sometimes deadly divisions in our nation. “This country was built on the idea that we do not all agree on everything. That we are a tolerant, free nation that encourages debate, free-thinking, believing, or not, in what you choose,” he said, his voice cracking a bit.
“Maybe there’s a lesson from all of this, a lesson in tolerance,” he continued. “We need to support each other’s differences and worry less about our own opinions. Get back to debate and away from believing or supporting the idea that if somebody doesn’t live the way you want them to live, you just buy a gun and kill them. Bomb them up. That is not okay.”
Stephen Colbert is expert at delivering the fake news. It’s the real news that is sometimes hard to get your arms around, or articulate in a manner both entertaining and truthful. “Naturally, we each ask ourselves, ‘What can you say in the face of this horror?'” he said about the spree that also wounded 53 people. “But then sadly you realize you know what to say but it’s been said too many times before.” You know what a president will say, how our elected leaders will react, what gun manufacturers will offer and even what a “silly” late night host will probably do, The Late Show host suggested.
He wondered if by accepting the predictable national script of these scenarios we’ve learned we also wanly accept that they will always end up the same way, with nothing changing. “It’s easy, almost tempting to be paralyzed by such a monstrously hateful act, to despair and say, ‘That’s just the way the world is now,'” he said. “Well, I don’t know what to do. But I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything … Let’s remember that ‘love’ is a verb, and ‘to love’ means ‘to do something.'”
Reacting to the day’s news with a joke and takedown is Trevor Noah‘s job on The Daily Show. The genial host summed up what many on Facebook had been saying all day on Monday about the predictable reactions to these too-regular mass shootings. “We shouldn’t allow this to be normal,” he said. “We shock, we mourn, we change our profile pics and we move on.” He also made a brilliantly poignant observation about the different way the nation has reacted to these acts of violence in the past. After 9/11 he noted, the country made attacking planes harder with increased security measures. “What we didn’t do was say, ‘Oh, this has nothing to do with airplanes.”
One host who is never afraid to look dead into the camera and name names is The Nightly Show‘s Larry Wilmore. He ripped presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for what some perceived as his bragging about the nature shooter’s sympathies. “When the news broke, the people of this nation were unified in a selfless outpouring of support for the victims and their families. Well, it was selfless except for one person,” he said, before cueing up a clip of Trump’s first tweet, in which he gave thanks for the “congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”
“Yeah, Donald, you were really ahead of the curve on the whole, ‘terrorism is bad’ thing,” he added. “I mean, honestly, who brags about this?… It’s like your doctor saying, ‘Yo, dude, I totally called it, you do have cancer.'”
“Yeah, Donald, you were really ahead of the curve on the whole, ‘terrorism is bad’ thing. I mean, honestly, who brags about this?!” Wilmore exclaimed. “It’s like your doctor saying, ‘Yo, dude, I totally called it, you do have cancer.’
Surviving the Orlando Shooting: A Pulse Bartender Shares His Experience| Orlando Gay Nightclub Shooting Casts a Shadow on Tony Awards | Producer Sebastian Krys on Orlando Massacre: ‘Music Will Always Be Stronger Than a Gun’