The Johnny Carson-style one hour late night talk show is obsolete. Its ratings keep going down, the median age of viewers (55 for Letterman, 56 for Leno) is going up, and the next time your friend asks you if you saw what happened last night on anyone’s late night show, it’ll be the first in a while. Granted, the musical performances on Jimmy Fallon are an exception, going viral regularly, and if the show were only 30 minutes a night and focused on music, people might watch the whole thing. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report have been a significant part of the cultural conversation for almost a decade now, but would they still be relevant if they were an hour long and unfocused, rather than with half as long and with a narrow subject matter?
The late night format has remained the same for decades. The host begins the show with a monologue about a litany of current events and celebrity peccadilloes. A sketch or pre-taped skit that’s generally the best part of the show follows, and the last half is devoted to pre-approved stories about some coincidence that happened on a recent trip and not being asked anything remotely interesting. Even a brilliant comedic mind such as Conan O’Brien, who wrote Marge vs. The Monorail – maybe the greatest Simpsons episode ever – struggles to produce an hour of TV with this format as funny as two episodes of a mediocre sitcom.
Probably the last saving grace of these shows is reliability. They provide the same thing night after night, and for tired people looking for something to relax with before bed, that has value. The comedy is professional and the hosts and their writing staffs know how to execute it.
The same can’t be said for the rambling, unfunny mess of a late night show Just For Laughs has in the week-long live show “JFL Late Night with Leon Black.” J.B Smoove is a funny person. Consistently so on Curb Your Enthusiasm,whose famously improvisational style suggests a cast more suited to creating comedy and doing stand-up than the average actors, whose job is to recite lines others have come up with. Smoove plays the character Leon Black, and during this talk show he drifts between being J.B and being Leon.
Neither man seems to have prepared for a week of hosting, though, and the result on Tuesday night was 2-hours stretched out like no show since the Oscars. After the first video clip illustrating how funny Smoove/Black’s rants are on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Smoove/Black himself came out, discussing the proper way to use a Banana as a sex toy. The next stretch of time (I blacked out, so I can’t be sure, but I think this part of the show lasted several days) was occupied by Smoove/Black trying to build a comedic rapport with a French interpreter and a chef. Like the rest of the show, this was all clearly improvised, and it showed.
Short standup performances by Hannibal Burress, Ali Wong and Godfrey threatened to drag the show into competence, but only Burress’ set was particularly strong (as it always is), and once shackled to the couch, none of the three guests were particularly comfortable. A bit about how to mix drinks involving Burress and Smoove was interrupted by the producer showing another set of clips of Leon and Larry David interacting, and it was hard to think that the audience would have been far better served watching 4 episodes of Curb at home, or any of the standup sets occurring simultaneously at other venues.
For information and tickets: www.hahaha.com/en/montreal/act/3359