January 6, 2021 started off as a monumental day that for many Americans manifested the political promise they wished to see in the new year. Reverend Raphael Warnock made history when he was elected Georgia’s first black senator and soundly defeated his opponent, Kelly Loeffler. Warnock’s pretty best friend, Jon Ossoff, also defeated his respective incumbent Republican opponent, David Perdue. Needless to say, Georgia woke up yesterday as blue as Paul Giamatti in Big Fat Liar. And then, just when the arc of the day seemed to bend towards hope, or at least towards something people like to call progress, a band of white supremacist Trump supporters and sympathizers terrorized the Capitol building in Washington D.C. at the behest of their one-term president, Donald J. Trump.
People worldwide gawked at sights of D.C. police literally and metaphorically removing barriers from the paths of confederate flag clad citizens who stormed and scaled the building, took selfies with law enforcement and left incendiary messages like “murder the media” on Capitol building doors. When America’s 24-hour news cycle broadcasts the consequences of these expressions of white disillusionment live for spectators to see, comedians are given the hefty responsibility of helping people process the unfunny political realities we all live in. Here is a summary of how late night television hosts responded to yesterday’s insurrection.
Meyers took a more sobering, stoic approach than some of his other late night contemporaries. Rather than reaching for cathartic wise cracks about the sight of MAGA supporters on the Senate floor, Meyers blatantly admitted that delivering jokes felt more feasible prior to the breach of the Capitol, saying, “I swear we were writing jokes today and then…” Meyers calls for Trump’s immediate removal and prosecution in a refreshingly, bold move. He also cogently contextualizes the racial dynamics of power that undergird both the abandon with which disgruntled whites were able to roam the Capitol building, Tomb Raider style, and the misfortune that that behavior eclipsed the attention given to Warnock and Ossoff’s historic success in Georgia. Rather than coddling his audience, Meyers attaches the chaos of the day to the legacy of the 1898 Wilmington Insurrection and a lack of accountability given to the sitting president.
Kimmel chose to weave humor into the opening monologue of Wednesday evening’s show. When describing the scene of the incendiary Trump rally that instigated the storming of the Capitol, Kimmel cleverly stated “never before have so many people gathered to watch the president masturbate.” Kimmel expressed a sense of disgust towards the actions of Trump supporters in the breadth of it being un-American and surprising. He even admitted that he never thought he’d see events like the insurgency in his “lifetime,” a stark contrast from Colbert and Meyers’ lack of surprise. A particularly memorable moment of Kimmel’s nearly 10-minute opener occurs at its close when after addressing Trump supporters and the way they’ve being pawned, Kimmel’s show runs a video which effectively splices fearful Congresspeople and window-breaking at the Capitol with soundbites from Trump’s 2016 inaugural speech in which the sitting president hauntingly asserts that “every four years [the American people] gather to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power.”
Like Kimmel, Colbert attacks the hypocrisy of the MAGA slogan with a series of well-timed jokes and skewers Republican politicians for their bystander behavior, saying slyly “hope you are enjoying those tax cuts.” Colbert’s blend of unabashed anger and comedic blows lands perfectly. While views are not evidence of merit, it may come as no surprise that of the four videos discussed in this article Colbert’s 15 minute monologue has garnered the most views, sitting at nearly 4 million YouTube views as of the publication of this article.
In addition to addressing the accountability he felt Republicans should take for the political environment which led to Wednesday’s insurgency, Colbert also called out Fox News, did a Jim Carrey-esque impression of Eric Trump and pointed out that despite Trump’s unified call he did not join his supporters on those Capitol steps. The successful hitch of Colbert’s monologue was grounded in the notion that supporters who rioted on the Senate floor live in an “alternate universe,” one in which their dissatisfaction with finalized election results warrant coups and collapses them into a “black hole of [their own] whiteness.”
Fallon’s monologue was the shortest and arguably the most underwhelming. After earnestly and anecdotally sharing that his veteran grandfather would be appalled by the actions of Trump supporters at the Capitol building, he goes on to assure his audience that this is not what America is about. While the sentiment of such statements like this, which President-elect Joe Biden also offered yesterday, gesture towards a belief that America inherently values justice, it also naively undermines the reality that America’s socio-political bedrock was established upon unjust means. Therefore, while insurrections like that which the nation witnessed are not rampant, they stem from the very white supremacist line of thought that has long been the quietly pivoting fulcrum of American society. “This is not the America I know” is an understandable expression of dismay, but it is also a signal that somebody perceives America as a place uninterested in perpetuating injustice, and that is the biggest joke of all.