Many late night hosts have played with the conventions of the late night talk show genre even while remaining hemmed in by them: David Letterman has routinely openly mocked them; Conan O’Brien’s Late Night dialed up the absurdity; Jimmy Kimmel’s show was live (for a while at least); and Carson Daly gradually whittled himself down to a sinewy mass, making Last Call With Carson Daly the first late night show ever hosted by tanned air. But ultimately all of these shows (even Carson Daly) follow the same script: Monologue of topical jokes, comedy bit, first guest interview, another comedic interlude, second guest, possible third comedic interlude followed by the third (usually musical) guest. The entertainment (and comedic) value of all of these elements is constantly in flux, except for one: the monologue, which is almost always, across all talk shows, uniformly bad.
Does anyone like late night monologues? Wait, to be more specific, does anyone who wasn't a peer of Jack Paar like late night monologues? The Monologue is the vestigial tail of late night talk shows. Maybe once a long, long time ago it was useful, but now it just sits there like some weird pointless lump. It’s rarely funny, and instead feels like tedious small talk, something the audience and the host have to get through in order to get to the real comedy and the real show. It’s no coincidence that the funniest late night monologues are Conan’s and Letterman’s, the two hosts who openly scoff at it, Conan with many silly faces, Letterman with a lot of teeth gnashing.
This kind of late night throat clearing is wholly unnecessary at this point. The Monologue is like those sitcom opening credit sequences where the cast will, one by one, turn and smile at the camera while their name flashes beneath them: hopelessly hokey. But yet every single late night host opens his show by walking onstage and launching into a number of ba-dum-pum topical jokes. So when a late night host, like, say, Craig Ferguson, opens his show with something different, like, say, Stephen Wright pushing Brittany Murphy on a swing, it can be very refreshing:
(Via Pop Candy)
Funny? Not really. Weird and different? Very much so. I'd rather watch witness-protection-version Stephen Wright push late night guests on all manner of playground equipment than another late night monologue. If nothing else, Ferguson gets points for trying something new at the beginning of the show. Of course, immediately following the intro, he launched into a monologue, so, you know, points deducted. It was fun while it lasted, though.