Jimmy Kimmel, former co-host of The Man Show, would now seem to be a sort of conscience in the ongoing struggle for healthcare in the United States.
If you consider the gravity of that idea, it’s a curious crossroads that we’ve come to in regards to comedy actually affecting change as opposed to just commenting on it. May it be “gonzo comedy” (i.e. becoming an active part of the joke that you’re making) perhaps?
Only in rare times of tragedy (9/11, Charlie Hebdo attacks Trump getting elected) do late night hosts take a much more sobering tone that leans less on jokes and more on emotional resonance. Also, the idea that comedians can actually affect change directly on a socio-political level with their comedy was a fever dream at best for a very long time.
For instance, comedian Dick Gregory, RIP, actually put action behind his razor sharp wit to make change happen with civil rights by joining in at marches, speaking out at rallies, etc. on top of being a groundbreaking, outspoken comedian.
Yet, in these topsy, turvy, non-sensical, surreal times where everything is getting “turned on its head”, the words of comedians are not only getting more barb-laden, but they’re actually getting much more serious much more often as well.
Years ago, Jon Stewart took on Mad Money’s Jim Cramer on The Daily Show in a planned attack forsaking humor, even satirically, for the intention of clearly pointing out injustice. That wasn’t the norm in late night back then even though Stewart rose to an even more revered status after that interview.
Nowadays, Stephen Colbert takes several direct shots at Trump on a nightly basis, Conan O’Brien is virtually a goodwill ambassador, and John Oliver and Samantha Bee both make their ideologies clear within their roasting of various topics as well issue some sort of call to action. In fact, Colbert has been noted to overtake Fallon in ratings these past several months because of the more overtly political comedy that happens on Late Night with Stephen Colbert versus The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
This brings us to Jimmy Kimmel, a late night host so apolitical that he had Donald Trump on and suffered none of the Internet’s scorn like Fallon did for having Trump on The Tonight Show and jostling his hair.
Earlier this year, Kimmel gave one of the most sincere late night monologues in history (try thinking of another monologue where a late night host cried more on camera than Jimmy) by recounting the story of how his newborn son had to undergo heart surgery to live. The ordeal made Jimmy think of all the other babies that might have a similar condition that wouldn’t be afforded the same medical attention under proposed GOP healthcare bills intended to replace Obamacare.
This led to Jimmy chatting with Senator Bill Cassidy about a new GOP healthcare bill that would pass the “Jimmy Kimmel Test” for having no exclusions of pre-existing conditions among other things. That segment was from an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live taped four months ago.
Just this past week, Kimmel found that the Graham-Cassidy Bill that Senator Cassidy had been working on had not fulfilled the promises that the Senator made to Jimmy on his show. Jimmy has not only taken Cassidy to task almost every night this week, but done so in a way that comes across more as a PSA than a late night monologue.
Tuesday night’s monologue was most definitely a call-to-action almost entirely devoid of any sort of jokes. Wednesday and Thursday made sure to have some of the tension broken by some roast style jokes, but Kimmel is now clearly perceived to actually have a dog in the fight for healthcare reform now, going toe-to-toe with elected officials.
Again, such a notion might seem odd, but it’s most certainly an echo of the zeitgeist and how splintered the public trust in government is.
This is as about a good of a time as any to remember that one of the enduring qualities of the late night talk show format is its ability to comment on the day’s events after they happen. The inherent tension in world events sets up a perfect opportunity for one liner jokes or even deep dive segments to highlight the absurdity of it all as quickly as network television can.
The news cycle moves so wickedly quick in 2017 that it almost burdens late night shows to cleverly make fun of it all. It may just be easier now to use the platform to, as Jon Stewart had done, just point out “what’s going on” as they see it instead of worrying so much about where the laughs come in.
Whether Kimmel will end up actually making a long lasting, significant difference in American health care has yet to be seen. To the point of this piece, it also has yet to be seen whether outright calling U.S. senators out for lying and then, subsequently, cracking jokes about their appearance and behavior will lead to said difference.
Jimmy Kimmel taking on staunch stance and repeatedly not backing down on healthcare does show one important thing: being neutral in late night is becoming less and less of an option.