Is Late Night in Need of a “Severe Motherfucking Shakeup”?
Late last week, Conan writer Andrés du Bouchet took to Twitter to blow off some steam regarding what he views as the less than impressive state of late night comedy today. Most of his tweets have since been deleted, but Uproxx posted the relevant ones before they disappeared. Here are du Bouchet’s thoughts in full:
Comedy in 2015 needs a severe motherfucking shakeup. No celebrities, no parodies, no pranks, no mash-ups or hashtag wars. I’m fat.
and shove your lip-synching up your ass.
Prom King Comedy. That’s what I call all this shit. You’ve let the popular kids appropriate the very art form that helped you deal. Fuck.
None of the funniest stuff ever involved celebrity cameos.
Once again I’m a bonehead for tweeting as a fan of comedy instead of as a guy who earns a living doing it.
@guybranum thanks but now comes the inevitable dressing down at work for criticizing other talk shows!
add games and lip synching and nostalgia and karaoke to this list.
Sorry for being a bloviating elitist windbag last night. I know tons of talented people are making the stuff I enjoy shitting all over
Geez I wish this many people gave a crap about my opinions when I was THE leading oncological researcher in the world.
— Andrés du Bouchet (@dubouchet) April 19, 2015
Well now that that's all over (please?) I'd like to get back to my pitch for The Vroom. It's The Room but w/ Vin Diesel as Johnny.
— Andrés du Bouchet (@dubouchet) April 19, 2015
du Bouchet’s boss eventually weighed in on the issue on Twitter as well, and he wasn’t exactly a supporter:
I wish one of my writers would focus on making my show funnier instead of tweeting stupid things about the state of late night comedy.
— Conan O'Brien (@ConanOBrien) April 19, 2015
du Bouchet has been vocal about the desire for more creative late night writing for a while now — here’s what he told us about the state of late night in our 2011 interview with him:
My solution is you guys just have to figure out how to synch your programming with the Daily Show’s so you’re on when they go to commercial and they’re on when you go to commercial. There’s so much overlap with those audiences.
I personally think that we need to just open the flood gates more and do crazier shit so that we’re not competing with anybody else in terms of addressing current events or politics. Frankly, people are going to go to Colbert and the Daily Show for that. We might as well be the people doing the insane stuff with sketches and characters and more absurd stuff. I’m hoping we can keep pushing back into that territory. We’ll see.
Are those your favorite things to write? The absurd sketches and characters?
Absolutely. The sillier and more absurd, the better. The old Late Night with Conan O’Brien show with all the characters is one of my favorite things ever, along with Monty Python and even Looney Toons cartoons. Anything that’s absurd.
Whether or not you view du Bouchet’s choice to rant about late night on Twitter as unprofessional, any Late Night with Conan O’Brien fan can sympathize with his general complaint. Save for the occasional segment on Conan and Late Night with Seth Meyers, there’s not a whole lot of room for truly absurd late night segments these days, especially when Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and most recently James Corden have racked up tons of tweets, news headlines, and YouTube views with the kind of comedy du Bouchet is referring to — pranks, lip sync competitions, nostalgia-driven sketches and songs, dance compilations with celebrities, mash-ups, hashtag games, the list goes on and on. It’s a complaint that’s probably felt, but not expressed, by a lot more late night staffers out there; even frequent late night guests like Rob Lowe feel the same way:
Gone are the days when stars could be witty and well spoken on talk shows. Now they have to be jugglers, pranksters and plate spinners.
— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) April 15, 2015
With the imminent departures of Jon Stewart and David Letterman, the late night talk show circuit is about to suffer from some severe growing pains, not to mention a dominance of mainstream, viral video-friendly comedy over the weirder and more inventive bits that cater to the comedy nerd crowd. Late night in 2015 is a constant battle for numbers and online acclaim, and the biggest numbers often come from segments that require little to no work from staff writers; Fallon’s popular “Lip Sync Battle” segment has not only been turned into a full TV show over at Spike, but it scored the network its highest ratings ever for a series premiere with over 15 million viewers. Compare Fallon’s YouTube views with The Late Late Show with James Corden, which has definitely made strides on the “weird and inventive” front since its premiere last month: On April 2nd, Corden’s wildly bizarre episode from an LA stranger’s home currently has just under 250,000 views, while Fallon’s “Evolution of Mom Dancing Part 2” with Michelle Obama, posted on YouTube the same day, is about to hit the 6 million mark.
Ultimately, though, Conan O’Brien is right: If du Bouchet wants late night to be funnier, he can start by working to make sure Conan is as funny as possible every night. And if nothing else, du Bouchet’s comments just amp up the pressure on Stephen Colbert’s upcoming premiere as the new Late Show host later this year — only time will tell what kind of approach Colbert takes with his show, but his hiring of longtime Conan writer Brian Stack certainly paints a hopeful picture in terms of preserving a network late night space for weird, unique, and writer-driven comedy.