How Bathtubs, Woodsheds, Couches and Sidewalks Became the New Hubs of Late Night

With kids giggling during monologues and Wi-Fi issues to work out, late-night hosts are wading through uncharted waters to deliver comedy, and a bit of levity, to audiences amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Courtesy of CBS; Comedy Central; TBS (2)
Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, Conan O'Brien

As states across the nation shutter entertainment venues, impose restrictions on group gatherings or enact stay-at-home orders in California and New York — the many hosts of late night are having to find new and inventive ways to entertain their self-quarantined audiences.

For John Oliver, it's meant hosting Last Week Tonight from a white void with no audience, seemingly out of The Matrix. For Stephen Colbert, it's offering a surprise Late Show open to a re-run episode from his bathtub. Conan O'Brien is confident that he will resume his TBS program on March 30, with writers and producers working remotely and the episodes shot on an iPhone. 

David Spade, who debuted his Lo-Fi Monologue series this week, remarked on how "no one talked to each other" about putting out in-isolation content, but over the course of the week it's become the new normal for late night.

"What's interesting to me is how different everyone is," Spade told The Hollywood Reporter. Everyone is picking their own way — do they want the kids involved or not. I'm doing a monologue. People are doing bits outside or inside. There's no rules and it's kind of fun to watch."

The uncharted territory of an at-home late-night show can also offer a mixed bag of technical issues, as Spade has learned. From Wi-Fi connections to finding ways to have comedians call in, the comedian said bugs will be worked out but there's also "no right or wrong way to do it."

"We'll just try to keep improving on it … for however long this goes," Spade added.

Over at the Fallon household, the late-night host, along with his family and dog Gary, has been putting together an At Home Edition. Fallon told viewers in his inaugural video that he hoped he could still offer "some levity in these bizarre times."

That levity includes the host delivering monologues with kids giggling in the background, his wife, Nancy Juvonen, serving as his camerawoman, and Lin-Manuel Miranda appearing as a guest via webcam. 

Jamie Granet-Bederman, a producer for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, explained to The Hollywood Reporter how the show's new approach came together. 

"Jimmy started texting and calling us on Friday morning and said we need to do something to help people and all the organizations that are being affected by this horrible pandemic. It happened very organically," she said. "A few of us jumped on a Zoom call and we started talking about the things we wanted to address and the tone we wanted to set. Jimmy kept going back to the fact that he wanted to bring a little normalcy, levity and joy to people’s lives, while raising money."

Each night the series will spotlight a different charity, with Feeding America and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS receiving attention so far. 

"We were all so happy when we saw the first night’s show. Jimmy was able to create a more intimate and playful version of what is usually a very highly produced show with just his beautiful wife and children in his home. The Tonight Show has always been a platform for viewers to escape, and now more than ever we need a breath of fresh air, and we hope we can be that for people. We are really proud to help entertain those who are at home participating in social distancing."

While Full Frontal has taken a short hiatus, Samantha Bee seen in Beeing At Home with Samantha Bee, a daily digital series that aims to offer sanity amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"I don't know what else to do," the host shared when asked why she opted to offer new content while in quarantine. "Making comedy is the only tool I have in my toolbox. If I knew how to make ventilators, believe me, I'd pivot to that."

Bee commended her husband, comedian Jason Jones, for being on deck to help with the show. "I am very lucky to be married to, and therefore quarantined with, an incredible television producer and director. We have been collaborators since the early days of our relationship, so we are singularly equipped to 'cowboy it' in our woodshed. That sounds dirty, because it is."

Dirtiness aside, Bee shared that while "it's an overstatement" to say hosts could be helping amid the coronavirus outbreak, "if we are able to distract someone in a positive way for three minutes and ten seconds, then I am all for it."

The comedian added that the real challenge she faces comes from the mix of homeschooling her children while working with a remote staff all while "grappling with the reality of a global pandemic."

"Compared to that, making videos is a breeze," Bee quipped. 

For those who've enjoyed Trevor Noah's commentary on The Daily Show, they can get the same jokes with a new location — Noah's couch — in his new series, The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah. While speaking to his audience from home, Noah has so far shown his audience how to deep clean an apartment and emphasized why social distancing is the world's best hope to fight COVID-19.

Speaking with THR, Noah broke down the three reasons he decided to keep the show going.

"Number one, it was because we realized that this may be the new normal for a little bit. We figured we'd have to figure out how to create what we create without the tools that we normally have," Noah said.

The host emphasized that safety for his staff was incredibly important — that's why he chose to film at home and send content to others, also working from home, to finalize. 

"The second reason was really our viewers," Noah said. "We are so lucky to have fans who engage with the show online. Many people sent me messages and they were like, 'so where are you?'" 

One of the messages Noah received was a viewer asking if without The Daily Show, would they have to watch 24-hour cable news now.

"I realized that, in many ways, we've become not just a comedy show, but also an aggregator of news. Then we process that through the lens of comedy. I realized what I'm going to be working on every day is to coalesce information into bite-sized chunks that people can process and, I guess, sift through the noise as much as we can."

Noah's final reason is one anyone in self-quarantine can empathize with — "we were going crazy cooped up inside." 

"I love making people laugh. I love talking about the news," Noah added, saying his new format has become "the most natural way to do it" while he and others on his staff remain safe. 

"If anything, all I want to try and do is be out there not necessarily trying to do the exact same show that I normally do because I don't think this is the world as usual," Noah said. "I'm hoping to at least, in some way, positively contribute to what's happening. This is a great moment to remember that we're all human beings and everybody is in this. This is one of the strangest things where it does not matter who you are, you are involved. I think there are many positives that can come from that."