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After the first 2020 presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, late night hosts Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel all offered their rapid reactions to the 90-minute face-off, and they all seemed frustrated and exhausted by what had transpired.
“I come to you tonight, ladies and gentlemen, an empty vessel, a man with a mind wiped clean,” Colbert said near the beginning of his monologue. “I have stood in the swirling chaos of creation. I have seen Shiva dancing the destruction, wielding his trident carving great gouts out of the universe. The sky at once both red and blue and black until all that remained was a starless void and the hollow husk once known as Chris Wallace.”
The Late Show host continued, “We have emerged from the mad whirlwind where we gazed upon the forbidden countenance of God himself, and he said unto us, ‘Jesus, stop interrupting him, you giant baby!’”
Indeed the commercial-free proceedings were characterized largely by Trump’s repeated interruptions, badgering and vicious verbal attacks, as moderator Chris Wallace tried in vain to keep Trump from talking over his opponent, and Biden early in the debate asked Trump to “shut up.”
“You know it was a rough debate when the guy who told the president to ‘shut up’ was seen as the classy candidate,” Fallon quipped.
The event was quickly characterized by news anchors and pundits as a “shit show” and a “disgrace,” with CNN’s Jake Tapper calling it “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.”
The late night hosts tended to agree, with both Fallon and Noah opening by expressing their exasperation at what they’d witnessed. Noah began by repeatedly wondering aloud, “What was that?” while the Tonight Show host said the same as he remarked at the “stress” and “kink” he was feeling in his body. Kimmel said, “I’d call it a nightmare, but at least during a nightmare you get some sleep.”
Fallon, meanwhile, likened the experience of watching the debate to “getting a Covid test in both nostrils at once.”
He added, echoing the thoughts of pundits who argued that the American people were the losers of that debate, “Seriously, did anyone take anything away from tonight? Was that helpful to any American? The only person who enjoyed that was Vladimir Putin while he was stroking a cat.”
The debate was so “brutal,” according to Trevor Noah, that it left both the Daily Show host and Fallon longing for ads.
“Whoever decided on this format needs to be fired because I don’t know about you at home, but I have never, and I mean never, wanted to see a commercial break more badly in my life. I cannot do 90 straight minutes of this shit ever again. It was brutal. There’s got to be a commercial break every five minutes. And during those commercial breaks, every ad should be for antidepressants or some drug that has side effects that makes you forget the last four years.”
Fallon said, “Tonight’s debate made history. It was the first time Americans ever watched something on TV and wished there were commercials.”
Wallace himself has been receiving a fair amount of criticism online.
But according to Fallon, Wallace achieved his goal: “Before the debate, Chris Wallace said if he did his job right, it would be like he’s not there. Well, mission accomplished.”
Noah, meanwhile, thanked Wallace for a “valiant effort” against extreme odds.
“We need new debate rules, people. Chris Wallace, thank you for your service, and I hope you have a lot of money for your therapy,” the Daily Show host said. “You made a valiant effort but you were not ready for this, because no human being could’ve been ready for this. They don’t need a moderator for this thing. They need a UFC ref.”
Beyond that, Noah advised, “Moderators, you need to figure out how to handle Trump at a debate because this is not good for the nation. It doesn’t work to just say, ‘Mr. President, please. Mr. President, please. Please, Mr. President, please.’ “
“Have you ever asked a toddler please? ‘Please put down the matches. Please put down …’ Your house will be burned down around you. That’s why Melania slaps the hand!” Noah said, showing the memorable clip of the first lady seemingly swatting away the president’s hand.
So Noah proposed some more extreme ways to keep things in check going forward, including using a spray bottle (“I promise you, Trump will be quiet because his hair turns into a gremlin if it gets wet.”), offering the president $100 every time he lets Biden finish a sentence (“Money is a great incentive for him, and now that we’ve seen the tax returns, we know that he needs it.”) and live fact-checking.
“Debates need fact-checkers,” Noah said. “Because otherwise, people can just stand on the stage and say whatever they want. And there are no consequences — zero, nada, zilch.”
Specifically, Noah suggested that every time a candidate said something untrue, “a brick should come down on their side of the screen. You know, like Tetris? … I mean the best part for Trump is that five minutes into the debate, he’ll finally have his wall.”
Trump’s incessant interruptions also made it hard to evaluate the candidates’ policy differences, said Noah: “What is my takeaway? I don’t actually know. I mean, I don’t know how Biden did, because Trump did more interrupting than Kanye West in a room full of Taylor Swifts.”
Still, he did praise the Democratic candidate for somewhat managing to stay on track amid Trump’s distractions.
“I can’t believe that Biden even managed to keep any train of thought. That was impressive. You wanna talk about being compos mentis for being president? Pay attention while Trump is trying to interrupt you the whole time,” Noah said. “It’s like having a little devil on your shoulder, but they’re not trying to convince you of anything. They’re just trying to mess you up.”
“And as for Trump’s performance, two things: One, now we finally know what it would be like if he read his Twitter feed out loud, and two, I can’t believe how hard his brain malfunctioned when they asked him to denounce white supremacists,” Noah said.
Colbert also highlighted the much-discussed moment in which the president of the United States refused to condemn white supremacists and instead called out the Proud Boys, referring to that as “one of the most upsetting moments not only of the night but of my lifetime.”
In conclusion, Noah said, “I don’t know if anybody won. All I know is for the next debate, I’m gonna stand back from the TV and stand by a bottle of wine.”
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