Late Night Lately: Hosts Take Time to Listen and Learn Amid Nationwide Protests

8:00 AM 6/6/2020

by THR Staff

The Hollywood Reporter's Late Night Lately rounds up the best sketches and guests with a look at what's to come next week.

Courtesy of NBC; Comedy Central; Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

The Hollywood Reporter's Late Night Lately is a one-stop shop for all of the most memorable moments of late night TV, coming to you each Saturday morning to ease you into your weekend.

So pour your coffee, set your DVR for the week and sit back. Below are a few of the week's best, funniest and strangest late night moments that you can't afford to miss.

This week: Several hosts took time to learn amid the protests that began following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck. Late Night writer Amber Ruffin shared her experiences with police officers, Trevor Noah shared his thoughts last weekend through Instagram, Van Jones joined Conan O'Brien to talk about solidarity and covering the news, while Jimmy Fallon spoke honestly about his own past actions with the head of the NAACP and Don Lemon. 

— Compiled by Jennifer Konerman

  • 'Late Night' Writer Amber Ruffin Shares Her Experiences With Police


    Late Night writer Amber Ruffin opened the show each day this week by sharing her experiences with the police, in light of the outrage following the death of George Floyd.

    On Monday, Ruffin's story was about being pulled over when she was a new driver as a teenager. After dropping her friend off at work, Ruffin was caught in quickly-moving morning rush-hour traffic. Ruffin turned on Busta Rhymes to help her calm down. "I get to a good pace, and I start feeling normal. And just then I encounter a speed trap, and no one is slowing down," she said. "There is an old, white cop standing on the side of the road and out of these tens of cars, he sees a young, black person driving a purple car blasting rap music. And he chooses me, and he's screaming at me. He is shouting as if I murdered someone."

    "He goes, 'Pull the car over! Pull the goddamn car over right now, motherfucker!' That is what this cop is screaming at me and I think, 'This is how I die. This man is going to kill me,'" she recalled. "I am bawling because I am 100 percent sure that this man is going to drag me out of my car, beat me to death and tomorrow on the news everyone will be like, 'She didn't seem angry, but who knows?'"

    The cop continued to shout at Ruffin as she pulled over. When the cop saw that Ruffin was crying, he calmed down and asked to see her ID. "He's taken aback," she said. "His whole demeanor changes, and it's as if he wasn't the guy who was just screaming at me." The office then let her go without a warning.

    "I have a thousand stories like this. The cops have pulled a gun on me. The cops have followed me to my own home," she said. "Every black person I know has a few stories like that. Many have more than a few. Black people leave the house every day knowing that at any time we could get murdered by the police."

    While she wanted to end the segment with a hopeful message, Ruffin said, " but maybe it's time to get uncomfortable."

    On Tuesday, Ruffin shared a story about visiting her friends in Chicago. After her friend Jeff picked her up at the airport, they went to go pick up another friend who lived next to an alley behind the police station.

    Ruffin skipped down the alley toward her friend. "Little did I know skipping down a police station alley is a big no-no, because I end up skipping toward a cop car that's driving at me," she said. "The sirens go off, a cop gets out and his gun is drawn, and he goes, 'Put your hands on the hood of the car!"'

    Noting that the cop was "furious," Ruffin said she complied as his partner patted her down. "His anger level toward me is insane."

    Ruffin then gestured to Jeff, who was waiting nearby. "The cop sees that Jeff, a white man, has seen all of this, and he changes his attitude with the quickness," she said. "He's suddenly professional instead of antagonistic, and he tells me that I was wrong for running. And it takes everything in me not tell him that if I wanted to run down the alley, that would be perfectly legal."

    "That man could have shot me in a second," she said. Ruffin said that these anecdotes, while common, are not often shared because there's "this unspoken rule that black people are supposed to take it in stride." 

    "Now imagine a bunch of incidents like that over one lifetime. Multiply that by 43 million African Americans, and that is why things are like this right now," she concluded. "That is why people are angry. And if you're not angry, why not?"

    Ruffin began Wednesday's episode by sharing a story that took place at her home in Chicago.

    After her friend Anthony left her house, Ruffin realized that he forgot his wallet. She called him and he came back to get it. "I step out onto the porch with no shoes, in my pajamas, and instead of walking to the end of the porch and down the stairs, I just reach over the side of the porch to give him his wallet back," she explained.

    "A cop car pulls up, flashes its lights. The cop gets out and she's like, 'Hold it right there! We gotcha!'"

    "Everything she says to us, she says with her hand on her gun," Ruffin recalled of the police officer, noting that she was "terrified" because both she and Anthony are black. After the cop asked why they "were running from the police," Ruffin said, "I'm not running anywhere. I live here." The cop asked to see both of their IDs. 

    Ruffin went back into her house for her ID and when she returned, the cop questioned why Ruffin didn't have a Chicago ID, so she had to get mail to prove she lived in the house. "She has now unsnapped that thing that holds your gun in place and is holding onto her gun tighter," recalled Ruffin. "So I go inside, and I'm freaking out because she's gonna shoot my friend Anthony for just being bigger than her."

    Returning with the mail, Ruffin noticed that the cop had calmed down. "She looks at the mail and she looks at us and she goes, 'OK, well from now on, when I tell you to stop, you stop,'" she said. "Now remember, she's never told us to stop anything."

    "And we live to get harassed another day. Because that's the kind of thing you have to do to stay alive when you're black," she concluded. "You have to let the police lie to you at your own house."

    On Thursday, Ruffin recalled driving in a car with a white friend who was dressed in a suit. "So we're at a truck stop seeing if my friend's dad, who is a truck driver, is there," she said. The pair drove slowly by the semi-trucks looking for the correct truck.

    Ruffin recalled that a police officer came up to them. "My friend rolls down the window and the cop is super nice," she said. "This cop wants to know what in the world we are doing, and he asked politely. And we tell him, and he is unsatisfied. He goes, 'I stopped you because there's been a lot of prostitution.' And I go, 'Oh, I'm not a prostitute.' And this cop has never believed anything less."

    As the cop continued to question Ruffin, her friend became annoyed. "My friend says to the cop, he goes, 'You have nothing. You have to let us go.' And I'm like, 'You just got me killed!'" she said. The cop responded, "Okay, but you have to leave."

    "The respect this cop just automatically had for my friend, I'll never forget seeing it," said Ruffin.

    Following the story, Ruffin spoke about the protests across the country. "People took to the streets because they believe that black people deserve better treatment than we have been getting," she said. The writer noted that she knows racism is not over, though she admitted she was "shocked that so many people showed up for black people."

    "Vote. Call your representatives. Unfriend racists. And most importantly, when you see something, say something." 

  • Trevor Noah Addresses Systemic Racism, Looting and Protest

    Comedy Central

    Throughout the week, Trevor Noah's passionate speech on systemic racism and police brutality made the rounds online. Noah posted an 18-minute video on May 29 and pleaded with people to ask themselves how they respond to events like this one and where that comes from. 

    "A lot of people don't seem to realize how dominoes connect, how one piece knocks another piece that knocks another piece and in the end creates a giant wave," he began. Noah went on to explain that the Amy Cooper incident, in which a white woman threatened to call 9-1-1 and tell them that a black man was threatening her life, sparked the current conversation in a major way. "She blatantly knew how to use the power of her whiteness to threaten the life of another man and his blackness." Noah called this the "first domino."

    Then, the video spread of George Floyd being killed when a police officer pressed his knee on Floyd's neck while he pleaded for air. "I don't know what made the video more painful for people to watch: the fact that that man was having his life taken in front of our eyes, the fact that we were watching someone being murdered by someone whose job is to protect and serve, or that fact that he looked so calm doing it."

    As the video flooded people's social media feeds, he said, "One ray of sunshine for me in that moment was seeing how many people instantly condemned what they saw."

    But when he saw people commenting on looting and violence, he explained that it's because people get angry when they think the unspoken "contract of society" is not being honored. But "there is no contract if law and people in power don't uphold their end of it."

    "We need people at the top to be the most accountable because they are the ones who are basically setting the toner and the tenor for everything we do in society."

    "When you are a Have, and when you are a Have Not, you see the world in very different ways. And a lot of the time people say to the Have Nots, 'this is not the right way to handle things.' "

    "But there is no right way to protest, because that is what protest is."

  • Van Jones Calls for Right and Left to "Come Together" and Act

    Getty Images

    Van Jones discussed feeling a range of emotions from "despair" to "hope" in the wake of George Floyd's death while appearing on Conan on Monday.

    From the perspective of a black parent, the CNN commentator said, the death of yet another unarmed black man while being detained by police erased all his lingering notions that he could teach his children to act a certain way to survive encounters with the police. "We had this one little hope, this tiny thread, that we could tell our children that there was something they could do to keep them safe from even the worst officers," like if they didn't "talk back," run or kept their hands on the steering wheel, he said. "In this situation, there's nothing that we could have told our kids."

    But Jones also raised a note of hope. Suspicions that white Americans are indifferent to the lives of black Americans "may not be as well founded as we think," he said, based on the mass of white Americans who "are also shocked and horrified" by Floyd's death and asking what they can do as a result. While he believes that the U.S. will never fully eradicate police brutality, "you can create an environment where, when it happens, the response is effective enough that other people don't want to go down the same bad road."

    Jones adde that politically, "We need to come together" and suggested Republican and Democratic leaders and other outside figures and organizations that don't often agree convene to try to talk through the moment. "If we don't come together, we're going to end up where we're headed, and where we're headed is not good." 

  • Fallon Talks Blackface Controversy With Don Lemon, NAACP President

    Jimmy Fallon apologized for wearing blackface in the past and discussed how to move forward after George Floyd's death with NAACP president Derrick Johnson and CNN Tonight anchor Don Lemon. 

    At the top of Monday night's episode, the host noted that he was going to have a "different kind of show" in light of the weekend's nationwide protests. Noting that a sketch of him performing blackface on Saturday Night Live had reemerged the previous week, Fallon said that at the time he was "horrified" but was being advised "to just stay quiet and to not say anything." "So I thought about it and realized that I can't not say 'I'm horrified and I'm sorry and I'm embarrassed.'" After he apologized last week, Fallon said he talked to some experts, some of whom appeared on the show on Monday.

    "The silence is the biggest crime that white guys like me and the rest of us are doing, staying silent. We need to say something, we need to keep saying something, and we need to say 'That's not OK' more than one day on Twitter."

    With his first guest, Johnson, Fallon noted that he wanted to learn how to move forward "and figure out how to be a better ally." Johnson advised, "Keeping the dialogue open, appreciating the uniqueness we all bring to the table and celebrating that uniqueness and not allowing demagogues to create otherness from people who may be different."

    Later on in the show, CNN's Lemon, who earlier in the weekend had called for Hollywood figures to speak out about George Floyd's death and ensuing protests, joined Fallon. "That's exactly what we all need to do, examine ourselves. That was very honest and brave of you," Lemon said of Fallon's opening monologue. "I wish more people would do that because we can't go back to the way we were."

    Striking a more hopeful tone, Lemon said there was a path to a better America if people stopped "making excuses for racism." "The biggest thing is to take some action. Use whatever platform you have, wherever you are and try to do something for a person of color, or understand a person of color or improve conditions. When something happens in the workplace that you perceive to be discriminatory, don't stand by, speak up!" 

    The CNN host returned to his comments about the lack of action and public support from people in Hollywood, explaining that he didn't mean to "call people out … in a derogatory or negative way," and he apologized to those who were doing things behind the scenes. However, he said people in Hollywood should be helping the thousands of young protestors as well as helping "to change that narrative about 'All of this is rioting' and 'Black people are causing chaos.'" 

    Lemon explained why he mentioned "bold names" in his commentary saying, "The reason I said that is because there's a vacuum of leadership in this country and we live in a very celebrity-driven society and people listen to artists of all kinds." 

    He added, "It's a call to action for everyone to do what they can because it's a critical moment for our country."

  • Wanda Sykes Urges White People to Protest: "We Can't Do It Alone"

    Steve Granitz/WireImage

    Wanda Sykes explained why white people need to participate in the Black Lives Matter movement during Thursday's episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!

    On Monday, Sykes posted a video on Instagram explaining why white people need to "step up" and address systemic racism. "I was already just so frustrated and angry," she told Kimmel about posting the video. "We're just tired of this, man. It's like we just keep going back and it's the same thing over and over again. And I think this one, it just, it was it."

    "I just had to do something. It's like, we can't do it alone," she said. "We're out there marching and asking for change. You know, we need white people to do it. We need white people to tell white people to stop being racist because when we do it, obviously it's not working."

    Kimmel noted that he saw videos from a protest in Manhattan Beach, California, that was made up of mostly white protestors. "This is different. You can feel it. You can feel this is different," she said of the recent protests compared to other movements in the past. "You see white people out there and I guess we just had to tell y'all, 'Hey, it's OK. You can march. Just because it's Black Lives Matter doesn't mean we don't want you involved. We need you involved.'"

    "I see that just in my neighborhood," Sykes said about activism she's seen from both black and white people. "I had to go to the grocery store and it was a bunch of white kids on the corner, you know, and some black kids too, and they were out protesting and it's just beautiful. Beautiful to see."