Entertainment

Comedians and COVID: Late-night hosts bring laughs from home

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, late-night hosts have found ways to adapt while continuing to provide camaraderie, comedy and even comfort to their audiences by broadcasting from their homes.

Studios and suits have been swapped for hoodies, hand-drawn graphics and 'Corona-Vision'

Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Samantha Bee are just some of the late night host adjusting their shows in the age of self-isolation. (YouTube)

On Sept. 17, 2001, when David Letterman and the Late Show returned after the events of 9/11 shook the world, there was a live audience waiting for him in the Ed Sullivan theatre. 

But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, today's late-night hosts have been unable to return to their familiar studios, fans and crews. Instead, they have found ways to adapt while continuing to provide camaraderie, comedy and even comfort to their audiences by broadcasting from their homes, substituting family members and hand-drawn signs in place of live audiences and polished graphics.



The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Airs: CTV

Stay-at-home set: Kids playsets, lemonade cart, reading nook

The former Saturday Night Live performer inherited the talk show once hosted by Johnny Carson. But it's hard to imagine Carson letting viewers into his abode the way Fallon has. The current The Tonight Show host was one of the first to return on-air, with handheld camera work from his wife Nancy and featuring his two pint-size co-hosts, daughters Winnie and Franny. Like any Dad adjusting to the stay-at-home lifestyle, Fallon often tries to get his kids involved, in this case providing drawings and cue cards.  

While Fallon was known for his sometimes fawning interview style, with the homemade broadcasts he has traded in elaborate celebrity singalongs and game competitions for chummy video calls with pals Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. 


The Late Late Show with James Corden

Airs: CTV

Stay-at-home set: Home garage decked out with desk, phone, records, pictures on the wall

James Corden returned with the prime-time special #HomeFest featuring video segments by self-quarantining celebrities including singer John Legend, magician David Blaine and K-pop superstars BTS. While his Carpool Karaoke is off the table, Corden's new base of operations is a slick home garage. He says his aim is to "bring people together while keeping them apart." 


Late Night with Seth Meyers

Airs: CTV

Stay-at-home set: Classic bookshelf, tabletop

Viewers have been treated to a parade of denim and plaid shirts and views of various locations around the Meyers home. Meyers' A Closer Look segments are nearly the same, except for the absence of laughter from a live audience. His first remote guest was U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, interviewed via video conference. 


Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Airs: CTV Comedy Channel

Stay-at-home set: Forest, various woodland creatures 

The Toronto-born host is keeping her show on the air with the help of her kids and her husband and executive producer Jason Jones, shooting outdoors in the forest.

Correspondent and producer Allana Harkin is working remotely in Brooklyn as part of the team bringing the show to air.  Living in New York City in the middle of the pandemic, she says, "There's been so many days to this where I have not laughed. I actually have been very, very nervous and very worried. But then we'll be like, let's find the absurdity." For Harkin, working on the show is a way of coping. "I don't know about you, but I have to laugh. If I don't, that's a deep, dark hole. I don't want to fall into it."

Conan

Airs: CTV

Stay-at-home set: Los Angeles home office, assorted tchotchkes

Coming to you from his home in L.A., Conan O Brien's show now opens with a montage of his staff, all working remotely. Via video conferencing, Conan checked in with his pal Andy Ritcher and remotely interviewed guests such as Adam Sandler. 


Jimmy Kimmel Live

Airs: CTV Comedy Channel

Stay-at-home set: Large living room

Jimmy Kimmel Live comes from the comedian's living room, he says, because everything else is now covered in Play-Doh. Kimmel's kids also contributed to the new opening credits, with handmade drawings and a new theme song for the show shot in "Corona-Vision." Kimmel's home is filled with remote equipment to capture his opening monologue and interviews with self-isolating guests such as Tracy Morgan.


The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

Airs: CTV Comedy Channel

Stay-at-home set: Modern New York City apartment

Even if you don't watch Trevor Noah's The Daily Show, you might have seen his Between the Scenes viral video segments in which the host ruminates during commercial breaks. But now every day is like an extended Between the Scenes segment. In the renamed The Daily Social Distancing ShowNoah has taken to broadcasting from his New York City apartment, alone behind a coffee table with a few super-imposed graphics. Like many, he's traded his suits for something more casual: a rotating wardrobe of hoodies. 


The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Airs: Global

Stay-at-home set: Bookcase, large television monitor

After one episode performed in a bubble bath, Late Show host Stephen Colbert returned to something more like his usual show format but with his children, wife and dog Benny nearby. Colbert began with the full suit and tie ensemble. By Wednesday he was sporting a blazer and open-collar shirt. Recent guests include Daniel Radcliffe in an interview that mirrored many people's experience with video conferencing, with the first few minutes spent figuring out how to get Radcliffe's audio working. Celebrities — they're just like us.   


A Little Late with Lilly Singh

Airs: Global

Stay-at-home set: None

Canadian YouTube sensation Lilly Singh pre-recorded a series of shows and interviews in December, before the pandemic hit North America, prompting her to post a short video explaining why these episodes feature a live audience and no reference to COVID-19. But while other late-night hosts adjust to the more intimate camera style, Singh has gone back to doing what she does best: creating content for her loyal YouTube followers. Recent videos include a comedy skit about life during the pandemic and a myth-busting episode with U.S. infectious disease expert and member of the White House coronavirus task force Dr. Anthony Fauci. 


Last Week Tonight

Airs: HBO

Stay-at-home set: Empty white space 

Typically John Oliver's Last Week Tonight goes deep on a certain topic, outside of the week's events. But with news about COVID-19 fast-moving and unavoidable, Oliver has taken to providing an overview of sorts. Alone in his home, Oliver's show sounds much the way it usually does except for the lack of a live audience. But, he jokes, as a British stand-up comedian, he's used to performing in silence. 


Some Good News

Airs: YouTube

Stay-at-home set: Desk, built-in bookcase, hand-drawn show logo

With the release of his film A Quiet Place 2 on hold, actor and director John Krasinski decided to share some joy with the creation of his homegrown Some Good News show. Krasinski reached out to fans via Twitter for positive stories, and the resulting segments quickly shot up the YouTube charts. The first episode featured heartwarming stories of neighbours helping each other, and Krasinski interviewing Steve Carell to celebrate the 15th anniversary of The Office

About the Author

Eli Glasner

Entertainment reporter and film critic

Eli Glasner is a national entertainment reporter and screentime columnist for CBC News. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee, Ont. to the Oscars red carpet and beyond.  

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