Larry Wilmore was right. It must be acknowledged now that some of what he was doing on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore – which ran on Comedy Central from January, 2015, until it was cancelled in August, 2016 – hit the nail on the head.
On many nights, Wilmore kicked off the show with a comedy bit called "the unblackening" of the White House. It got repetitive and sometimes it seemed a ridiculous reach. But, now, it looks remarkably prescient. Chillingly so.
Wilmore could be droll and truculent in his comedic approach to politics and current events, a very different approach from others.
Mind you, the show was only memorable on occasion, often drifting into the juvenile and jejune. But on that point, "the unblackening," Wilmore was unerringly correct.
His show is cancelled. Other late-night shows go on and are, mostly, floundering. We've entered not just the posttruth but the postfunny era.
"It's a bizarre new world," Steve Bodow, the executive producer of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, told Variety the other day. "There's going to be a lot for us to say and do."
Understatement of the month. Watching The Daily Show has been an education recently, and an unfunny one. Trevor Noah's knack for finding a joke in the outlandish era of president-elect Donald Trump has improved. But he does one-liners that evaporate.
It is pointless now to pine for Jon Stewart's eloquent rage. He's gone.
Mind you, while Noah could not be expected to step into Stewart's role instantly and easily, the show made a grave mistake by diminishing the mockery of cable news that was such a distinct and heartening – and funny – element of the Stewart-era Daily Show.
It's painful to watch Stephen Colbert these days. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert tends toward the limp and innocuous joke when it isn't being tortuous in its undecipherable approach to U.S. politics. The live election-night show Colbert did for Showtime was simply painful.
Possibly, satire is beggared by the Trump phenomenon. Satire as traditionally delivered on late-night U.S. TV has certainly been challenged and, while it remains to be seen if those in the arena can transcend their own limitations, it doesn't look good.
After president-elect Trump and his wife Melania visited the White House two days after the election, four hosts – Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden and Trevor Noah – all engaged in doing essentially the same comedic routine, all focusing on awkwardness between Melania and Michelle Obama with Melania repeating Michelle Obama's words. The poverty of the comedy is glaringly obvious.
Saturday Night Live got praise for its direct approach to mockery of Trump and Hillary Clinton when the show returned this fall. The praise was deserved, and here's a thought – Baldwin is uniquely equipped to impersonate Trump not only because he played an egomaniac executive on 30 Rock, but because there's a self-same temperament quality that allows him to approximate Trump uncannily. Like everybody else, of course, SNL did not plan for a Trump win and Baldwin must be somehow corralled into a long-term Trump-impersonator role.
Seth Meyers on NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers has earned praise too, and rightly so. His deftly written topical-comedy monologues are superior to what others are doing because Meyers's tone of outraged amazement is actually funny in the manner of traditional satire – it is infused with irony, not just outrage.
Samantha Bee's show doesn't quite fit into the late-night category. It's on before the late-night hours and airs once a week. Still, Bee has emerged from the election cycle with her profile raised and a small army of admirers.
One understands why – Bee is articulating the anger and contempt that her audience has for Trump and everything about his campaign. And yet, it all amounts to preaching to the converted. And, often, it isn't funny at all. Calling Trump "a crotch-fondling slab of rancid meatloaf" will get the studio audience roaring but it has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. That's Samantha Bee's only thing – the sledgehammer of outrage.
Much the same applies to John Oliver, whose weekly sermons become pious, and the sermon/lecture method is already a hackneyed comedy trope in his hands.
This is not to say that there has been total failure on the satire front. Oliver can be very sharp and Bee can fire off a stinging remark. But the circumstances call for a great deal more and evidence of improvement is lacking in what, heaven help us, could be the new postsatire period.
Airing Tuesday tonight
The Bachelorette Canada (W, 9 p.m.) comes to an end. Such drama queens, all involved. Such nitwits, those slabs of men. Such a nincompoop that Bachelorette. Now that was a very, very funny show.