‘It’s All Trump This, Biden That.’ SNL Writer Blasts Late Night Talk Shows

 Stephen Colbert biting his lip trying not to laugh while interviewing Chris Hemsworth on The Late Show.
Credit: Paramount

Late night talk shows used to be broad attractions watched by a wide cross-section of viewers, but over the last decade or so, they’ve become increasingly niche entertainment. They’ve also, on the whole, become a lot more political, and while that can be quite satisfying to a certain segment of viewers, it’s not what everyone is looking for. Just ask Alex English. The stand-up comedian and Saturday Night Live writer opened up about his thoughts during a recent interview, and he discussed how much he misses the old days.

The interview in question happened with Wired and was published this past week. In a wide-ranging conversation, English touched on the proliferation of TikTok and short-form comedy clips (he thinks they’re bad for stand-up), why he won’t police other people’s jokes (he doesn’t think comedy should be policed) and most interestingly to me, late night talk shows. English said he believes comedy should be designed to bring people together, but he looks at modern late night talk shows and just sees them pushing people further apart. Here’s a portion of his quote…

The late-night show(s) definitely (don't bring people together). The political monologue. It’s all Trump this, Biden that. I miss the days of Johnny Carson where they were just sitting on a couch talking and being naughty for an hour. It was actual late-night TV. I watch old clips of Johnny Carson and Arsenio Hall. Rarely would you hear them make a political comment, much less a joke. I wish that would come back. Because at this point, there’s no joke to make about what’s happening.

The comments may generate a double-take from some readers, given English writes for Saturday Night Live which has been intermittently accused of political bias over the years, but those who watch SNL on a regular basis can speak to how often the show includes non-political sketches and how often it does take digs at the left side too, even if it's hammered Trump and the right more often. Various cast members over the years have paraphrased head honcho Lorne Michaels as repeatedly saying the show is on in every state. The interpretation is always the goal is to appeal to fans all over the board.

Since its rise to prominence in the 1950s, television has evolved almost constantly. An overwhelming majority of shows have come and gone within just a few short years, but somehow, amidst all that change, some notable examples have lasted decades. Disproportionately, those notable examples have come from more unusual timeslots, especially late night television. Saturday Night Live is likely the most prominent example, as the show approaches its 50th anniversary, but The Tonight Show has actually been around a lot longer. Through various hosts, it has been running since 1954. Many of the other late night shows have also been on for decades, the most notable example being The Late Show, which between David Letterman and Stephen Colbert, has been airing since 1993.

As much as things have stayed the same, however, they’ve also changed quite a bit. The explosive growth of streaming services and the rise of cable has given viewers more options than ever. That has led many programs, not just late night shows, to increasingly focus on pleasing a niche audience of core viewers, rather than try to broadly please more casual viewers. That pivot has allowed some of these shows to remain popular and profitable amidst all the upheaval, but it’s also, to English’s point, meant many have become increasingly focused on narrower topics, which in the case of late night shows like The Late Show, Live With Jimmy Kimmel, The Daily Show and many more, have made them more political.

English is likely most famous, at least when it comes to Saturday Night Live, for writing the popular Lisa From Temecula sketches, which are hilarious and of course, use something other than politics as the source of the joke.