How Dave, Jay, Conan, and Jon Reacted to bin Laden's Death

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Late night hosts integrated the news into their Monday routines, with mixed success

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Osama Bin Laden Americans can't really absorb any big news until the talk show hosts have had their say. The website Videogum, however, couldn't wait until last night to hear how Leno, Letterman, Conan, and company would react to Osama bin Laden's death. Yesterday afternoon the site ran a list of possible jokes Jay Leno would make about bin Laden during his opening monologue. Those jokes, predictably, were not kind to the Tonight Show host, with lines like "Osama bin Laden was buried at sea. Now America faces a new enemy—angry fish!" The actual Leno monologue wasn't much better, though—it started with a joke about President Obama having a new campaign slogan: "Yes, I can!"

Letterman's opening line was sharper. He asked his understandably pumped New York crowd if they enjoyed the "Osama bin Laden season finale." A moment later, Dave joked that a clerical error led to the terrorist mistakenly being sent to an afterlife with 72 vegans, and a Top Ten List of possibilities for Osama's last words included the gem: "I need a house full of Navy Seals like I need a hole in the head."

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Comparing Letterman to Leno, though, is like comparing Jeopardy! to Wheel of Fortune—an analogy especially evident in last night's guest lists. Dave bumped his announced guest, Tracy Morgan, in favor having NBC News anchor Brian Williams talk about the day's big event. On NBC itself, meanwhile, Leno's was chatting as scheduled with Paul Walker, star of Furious Five. Ew.

Conan O'Brien had a great guest, Will Ferrell. But it turned out to be a weird night for their much-hyped "Beardpocalypse," a televised shaving of the beard that O'Brien has worn for months. Ferrell managed to incorporate the day's news into the shaving routine, claiming "nothing else" was going on in the country, and Americans were so excited about Conan's shave that when Ferrell turned on the TV Sunday night he saw cheering people in front of the White House chanting, "USA! Shave the beard!"

Craig Ferguson plied a deadpan ignorance as well. Ferguson went a solid two minutes on stage without even mentioning the dead-terrorist elephant in the room, before finally bringing up the monumentally important news on everybody's mind—how Mariah Carey gave birth to twins. Then Ferguson went meta, bringing his audience into the process of joke-writing by pointing out that it's hard for his show to come up with a fresh take, given that a whole day's worth of talk shows, From Regis and Ellen on, already had their shot, excuse the expression, at making bin Laden jokes.

"What am I supposed to say?" Ferguson asked, mocking Monday's most repeated line, "Osama is dead and Trump wants to see the death certificate"?

Coming back after the first commercial break, though, Ferguson was flat-out giddy delivering his famed "It's a great day for America" line.

He clearly had never meant it more. Ferguson then wondered if President Obama, who so righteously skewered Donald Trump at the Washington Correspondents' dinner, had deliberately timed his address to the nation to interrupt Celebrity Apprentice.

Jon Stewart thought the same thing. The Daily Show's host claimed he was watching Celebrity Apprentice at the time, and to have figured that the president was breaking in to the show to make a few more jokes at Trump's expense. Then Stewart, always at his best when slamming the news rather than newsmakers, mocked the media's build up to the speech, garnering laughs with the show's signature, pop culture-spoofing graphics behind him, like the delightful "Extremist Home Makeover" and the convoluted, but also delightful, "Harry Plotter and the Deathly Hello."

While addressing the raid itself, Stewart got emotional—and dangerously close to serious. After declaring himself "way too close to the situation to be rational," the fake newsman expressed the most genuine emotion of the night, with a monologue as close to Churchillian as comedian can get.


After describing the last decade as a contest of ideologies between Al Queda and the West, Stewart personally consigned the terrorist group's hateful beliefs to history's famous dustbin. He finished the segment with a surprise—a good, old-fashioned, if undeniably crude, joke about the male private parts. Just to remind the audience they were still watching comedy.

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Hampton Stevens is a writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, Playboy, Gawker, Maxim, and many more publications.

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