The Mega Post continues with Part Six: Talk Shows
Most people, according to talk shows, get their news from talk shows. I don’t. I get my news from twitter like a sane person. But if you want to get a feel for what’s going on in the world all you have to do is listen to a late night talk show host try to make it into a joke. And then listen to the audience’s reaction.
I don’t watch TV live. More accurately, I don’t watch pre-recorded shows when they air. The only things I watch when they air are things that are LIVE when they air. I watch the news live. I watch sports live. I watch award shows live (and that’s about it). Everything else I record, Tivo, DVR (it’s a verb), wait for DVD, Download, find online and watch later…
However, the exception to this rule is the talk show. They aren’t really live. Most of them are taped in front of studio audiences in LA or New York at around 5 or 6 pm EST and broadcast six hours later. But what happens is, sometimes… sometimes a talk show is so juicy. A guest is so current or a news event is so interesting, that I have to watch a talk show when it airs. It just won’t wait.
I grew up on Johnny Carson and I was into Letterman when I was in college. Me and my friends would smoke a bowl and watch Dave (it’s a cliché but there’s a reason it’s a cliché). However, even though a talk show is only as good as its guests, there are those rare shows that are even better when nobody good is on. The hosts and the comedy and the band more than make up for it.
So, here are ten talk shows where it does not matter to me who the guest is. I’m gonna watch it. And sometimes, if someone good is on, I even watch it live.
to the list…
First – my new favorite talk show…
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
Hosted by John Oliver
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is the newest talk show on the list. He talks about current events. He does comedy bits. Shows some video clips. He has the occasional guest and even a band or two. But it is the host and the writers that make this show great. John Oliver is very funny. Very cute. And very likeable. His smile is infectious. And he doesn’t shy away from the big subjects. Hell, I think he’s tackled a major issue head on in every single show. Good job.
John Oliver was one of my favorite correspondents on the Daily Show who really came into his own when he filled in for Jon Stewart who had left to make a movie. John Oliver was spectacular pinch-hitting. And even when Stewart came back, you could feel it. Oliver was different. He was just as good as Stewart and everybody felt it. They had to give that man his own show.
And now that he’s on HBO, he doesn’t have to watch his language. He can go past the line of too controversial for standard cable. And since he’s only on once a week, he can pack a show with a weeks worth of comedy goodness. Recently he did a song about the prison crisis in the US with puppets that was pure genius dealing with rape and prison mortality and cost saving inhumane budget cuts and low-level drug offenses becoming a death sentence. It was amazing and he’s going to get an Emmy. Great show.
Watch it. Re-watch it. Share it. John Oliver does amazing work.
@midnight (Chris Hardwick/The Nerdist)
Hosted by Chris Hardwick
I’ve only been a Chris Hardwick fan for maybe the last 3 or 4 years. But now I listen to the Nerdist podcast religiously. I like the questions Chris asks and the detail they go into with their guests. I really enjoy the “hostful” shows when they have no guest on and Chris and his two cohorts (Matt Myra and Jonah Ray) riff off of each other and talk about real life stuff. (Pretty much anything). A great set of guys.
They did a show at the end of last year (2013) that some fans complained about because it was so serious and it dealt with loss and loneliness but I think it was the best hour of entertainment and information and emotional honesty I had experienced that entire year. I would love for them to take that show and transcribe it and bring it to the stage. I know there was a lot of “realness” there and it is hard to do that, but if great actors played the four roles (Chris’s GF joined in to the discussion) it would be a powerful and successful play about friendship, loss, love, and Christmas. (The feeeeeels… honestly I think I cried four times during that episode) Great stuff.
But Hardwick also hosts talk shows (and that’s what this post is about). He had four at one point and now he has two and possibly a third. @midnight, a very funny show where comedians come on to make jokes about social media and pop culture. And also Talking Dead where cast members and other celebrities talk about The Walking Dead (One of my favorite shows). And most recently he hosted a Doctor Who after show called After Who which I hope continues all season.
Here’s a segment from Talking Dead with Lauren Cohan and Sonequa Martin-Green…
Watch him. Listen to him. Follow him. Chris does outstanding work and I think it’s because he comes across as genuine, egoless and pure hearted… and you can’t fake that shit.
The man is one of my hero.
The Soup Live with Joel McHale (E!)
Hosted by Joel McHale
I don’t watch reality TV… but I love the Soup on E! (Now The Soup Live!). It shows the worst (or the best – depending on how you look at it) of reality and daytime talk and even news and niche channels. It condenses a week’s worth of the funniest clips and allows me to see and know the references that everyone talks about without having to watch those god-awful shows that are destroying society.
Reality Shows are a big part of what’s destroying society. It’s the Glorification of bad behavior. So when Joel McHale rips them a new one for some outrageous act or racist comment or train wreck of an over-share. I laugh my ass off. I guess it makes me feel better about myself. Mostly because these people are so self-absorbed, superficial and short-sighted that I feel sorry for them.
Here’s a Soup short called Comedians in Cars getting Cocaine…
But even while adults like me pity them, kids want to be them. Kids who don’t see that these pseudo-celebrities are miserable people. That you can try to collect all the superficial crap and money and fame and stuff and it will never fill the hole left from having no personality, no self-awareness, no emotional maturity or human compassion, self-respect or a fucking soul. (end of rant)
But watch The Soup. (Because these idiots are fun to laugh at)
Next – The Great One…
Late Show with David Letterman (CBS)
Hosted by David Letterman
62 minutes (with commercials)
I started watching David Letterman when he was on NBC after Carson. And I watched him for the band. David Letterman has the best band in late night TV history.
I love it when Paul Shaffer and The World’s Most Dangerous Band (or The CBS Orchestra or whatever they’re calling themselves), plays with the musical guest. Because other than that we only heard them for the opening song, the end song and before and after commercial breaks and that was it. The band is amazing. The band was nasty from the beginning. The drummer; Anton Fig, and the bass player; Will Lee, are two of the best around. And they’ve had a host of great guitarists and then a horn section that’s just filthy. And frequent guests who would sit in with the band. Seriously, I started watching David Letterman’s show for the band.
But I also enjoyed his interviews. Mostly because he doesn’t take shit from anyone. A lot of people don’t like him because they say he’s mean to his guest. But if you watch, he is professional and respectful until they cross the line or try to make fun of him and then he lets them have it. And I love him for that.
Here he is interviewing Emma Watson from 2009…
Watch him while he’s still here. (When I was in college it was a nightly ritual to roll up a fatty and watch Letterman. I am sad to see him go. End of an era)
Next – Let’s get stylish…
Fashion Police with Joan Rivers (E!)
I’ve been a fan of fashion since High School. And I know Fashion Police concentrates more on celebrity fashion but I love it anyway and I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m a big fan of award shows already, but the red carpet pre-shows (just showing the celebrities arriving) have become these amazing celebrity fashion shows and that’s just awesome.
I have never been a fan of runway models showing clothes. You could roll out the clothing on a hanger and it’s pretty much the same thing (sorry ladies but it’s very cookie cutter). I like seeing the designs on real people. Beautiful people – yes – but with real bodies. To me, award shows are the best fashion shows. Hands down.
So every week Joan Rivers and friends cover every major fashion worthy event in the world and they critique the styles and the different celebrities and then Joan makes fun of them in that Joan Rivers way that some people call mean but I think is plain funny. At least once a show she makes me spit out my coffee. I like Joan (she should have gotten The Tonight Show after Carson… I’m just saying). She is very funny. Although she is better with writers than without them because she tends to repeat herself (I’m still just saying).
Here she is destroying Justin Bieber…
Watch it. (I love this show and I shouldn’t even call watching Fashion Police a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure)
Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)
Hosted by Bill Maher
I love this HBO political chat show even if I think the host is a horse’s ass. Bill Maher is one of those guys who thinks he’s smarter than he is (takes one to know one).
He is often overmatched in political discussions and allows his guests to talk circles around him. He is slow on the uptake (too much weed maybe) and even though I agree with many of his views, he has little idea on how to articulate them. It’s infuriating.
But I still watch and on occasion he has a good panel, or just a panel that includes a smart liberal who can answer the repeated talking points on the right. And his New Rules segment can be really funny at times and always ends with a well-written rant. (Thank god for the writers… right Bill)
(Can’t embed your videos, Bill? Well screw you, sir)
Watch him anyway. (I’ll be over here yelling at the screen)
Next… Live from New York
Saturday Night Live (NBC)
I know it’s not a talk show. It’s a variety show. But there is a guest (sometimes more than one) and a musical act and a house band (a pretty good house band that was once led by the great Paul Shaffer) and comedy bits and jokes based on the news. So it has all the essential elements. I’ve watched SNL from the beginning.
When I was a kid I would pretend to go to bed and then wake up and sneak watch it. Through the seventies and eighties it was all we talked about Monday at school. And though it has gone through some crappy periods. And shitty line-ups as well as writers, there were resurgent years and many great people who came through the cast and the writer’s room. Many many great people.
The newest cast members (especially the women) are insanely funny and depending on the guest host, the show can feel just like it did when it was at the top of its game.
But whether or not a show is good really has more to do with the host than anything else.
Here’s Louis C.K. on Black Jeopardy…
Watch it. It’s getting better. (Just no more Justin Bieber hosting… I beg you)
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
Hosted by Stephen Colbert
In the last year of the Colbert Report (Stephen is taking over for the departing David Letterman) Stephen has softened a bit. His on-screen alter ego (with the same name) has gotten him into trouble and he has pushed the line a bit with his character’s uncomfortable views on race. However, he still has the best writers on TV. And he is one of the best deadpan comedians working. And no one is better at showing the absurdity of the right and the right-wing pundits on Fox News.
But for a talk show host, Stephen Colbert gives the worst interviews. They are the worst. The man is a genius (literally), so he is often able to use his persona to get his point across during the interviews (especially with right-wingers) but most of the time he fails and really only succeeds in being disrespectful to his guest. Because of this, I can’t stand his “Better Know a District” series. They are the most cringe inducing interviews of elected officials since The Ali G Show.
And I love Stephen as a performer. I really love his voice work on Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law and on SNL (The Ambiguously Gay Duo). He is one of my favorite performers and I’m excited to see what he does with the Letterman time-slot and if people still like him once he drops the act. (Or if he even does)
Here he is addressing the #CancelColbert movement…
Watch his show while he’s still around. (He has the best writing staff on TV)
Next – we go across the pond…
The Graham Norton Show (BBC America)
Hosted by Graham Norton
I love this British talk show because it throws a wrench into the one guest at a time classic talk show format and has all the guests come out at once and one by one Graham asks them a question each enabling the other guests to chime in on the discussion.
Graham Norton is an incredibly likeable host and the show’s open interview free-for-all is fantastic and even when I don’t recognize a guest or particularly like one, the other two celebs are always there to spice things up.
The Graham Norton Show is rarely if ever dull.
The music guests are often very Britpop and most of the time I have no idea who they are. But then he ends the show with audience stories that are usually enjoyable and if they aren’t there’s a lever he can pull that flips their chair over and sends them away.
Here is a crazy conversation featuring Kylie Minogue, Russell Crowe, Cameron Diaz and Richard Ayoade that is hysterical…
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (CBS)
Hosted by Craig Ferguson
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson features the funniest side-kick in late night, Geoff the Robot. And a host; Craig Ferguson, who doesn’t play by your rules, man.
I remember early in the show’s run when the fire marshal told him he couldn’t light a sparkler without a fireman present and he thought that was ludicrous and ridiculous, so he lit it anyway and lost his permit to have an open flame on the set. So that he couldn’t have cooking segments for years. And the only reason he did it was because they told him he couldn’t. That’s Craig Ferguson in a nutshell. He does not give a fuck and it’s not an act. And that’s why I watch the show. (And he’s also a big Doctor Who fan… so there’s that)
But his sidekick, Geoff; a robot, is the funniest, quickest, most entertaining sidekick in late night history (sorry Andy Richter). And that’s why I love it. From the songs that they make up on the spot, to the voices, to the running gags, it is just plain madness.
There’s no band. So Instead two guys in a horse costume come out and dance during commercials. It is the silliest and craziest thing I have enjoyed seeing on TV since the old UHF channel 68 (before cable) Uncle Floyd Show in New York. Craig says he’s leaving with Letterman at the end of the year. Say it ain’t so, Craig. We are going to miss you.
Here’s a Doctor Who themed show opening song that never aired…
Watch Craig while you still can.
And that’s ten…
Now you may have noticed that one of my all-time favorite shows is not on the list.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
I love Jon’s work. And I’m a long-time fan of his show. Though I get angry with him sometimes for trying to show both sides of an argument that doesn’t have two sides. He tries to placate his critics on the right and he gives too much credit to people like Bill O’Reilly and viewers who hate-watch his show.
But he’s fallen off of this list because of a noticeable drop in quality as he has lost many of his long-time writers and several of his best correspondents. (John Oliver’s departure left a huge creative hole in the show and it shows) And now with Colbert leaving the channel as well, I wonder if Stewart will be able to keep up even this reduced quality. Or if he will instead hand The Daily Show reins over to someone else… Chris Hardwick perhaps.
But these are just my top ten. So don’t get me wrong, I’d still watch Fallon or Kimmel or Seth Meyers or Conan if someone interesting were on but none of those guys are breaking any new ground. They’re doing Letterman’s act. Even if you asked them they would tell you that they were all doing a fresher version of Letterman. Letterman Jr. And like I said I grew up on Dave and Johnny. So I already know what they’re going to do. I already know the punchlines before they deliver them. I already know the questions before they ask them. So guys, try to surprise me or I’m just going to be bored. (Okay? Good talk)
And in the end we’ve learned two things: A talk show is only as good as its host. And there are not enough women in late night. (News or Talk Shows). What’s up with that?
Drama is up next.
Bring on the drama.