“I’ve had to do comedy now through a bunch of different elections, and I will say, it’s not better for the country, but the more colorful the characters, the easier the comedy is,” Meyers says. “2008 was more fun than 2012, and 2000 was more fun than 2004. And this year is fun. Obviously there’s a lot of conversation about how everybody [in comedy] has handled Donald Trump, but if your job is to poke fun at people every day, he’s a delight.”
Trump has seemingly posed an unusual problem for many late-night comedy shows with his outsized, cartoonish candidacy. Saturday Night Live never quite settled on the right impression (unlike Fey’s Palin, who resonated the second she appeared on air), and the show had Trump host a deflated-feeling episode early in its most recent season. The candidate has appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show and Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, where both hosts struggled to pin him down on his more controversial opinions. Meyers has had no such qualms, going after his Trump University scandal, his record on guns, his flip-flopping on the Iraq War, and many other false claims in several segments of “A Closer Look.”
Meyers dismisses the common complaint that it’s hard to make fun of someone who’s already so outlandish: “Hard is Mitt Romney. Hard is Barack Obama.” He recalled that as a cast member on SNL in 2004, he was assigned to play Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, a fairly thankless role in a much more subdued election. “Nobody ever got excited about a John Kerry sketch,” he says. “John Kerry was the ‘Reverse Palin,’ as we call it in comedy.”
With Trump, the opposite is true: Audiences can’t get enough. “The biggest challenge has been trying to resist this fear that we’re piling on. Because we are talking about it so much,” he says. But he added that the show stands by its frequent Trump coverage. “Look, Donald Trump’s on the cover of The New York Times every day, so it makes sense that he can be in our monologue every night.”
“A Closer Look” will skewer other topics in the news, like the Senate’s inaction on gun control or the skirmishes between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but Trump has certainly been the dominant topic for Meyers. “I think for some people, hearing about Donald Trump is like reading their Peanuts strip, like, something happened to their favorite cartoon character,” he says.
Since the departure of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show, pundits have cast around for a successor and found the obvious candidates wanting in some way. The new Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s style of comedy is broader and more punchline-focused, while Stewart’s former colleague Stephen Colbert has struggled with the broader demands of hosting CBS’s 11:35 p.m. Late Show, particularly the onus of celebrity news and interviews. Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal is an exciting new entrant, but it airs just once a week. Late Night isn’t just political humor—Meyers employs some of the best sketch writers in New York, and the latter half of his show will often feature some truly strange segments—but it found its comfort zone by leading with, and lampooning, hard news.