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As the first Democratic debate of 2019 kicked off Wednesday in Miami, late-night hosts Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah and Jimmy Fallon seized the opportunity to present live shows featuring political and social commentary on the event.
Prominent candidates in the political scrum included former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; Maryland politician John Delaney; the first Hindu member of Congress, Tulsi Gabbard; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; and Tim Ryan, member of the House of Representatives from Ohio, rounded out the debate.
Moderators for the event included Today anchor Savannah Guthrie, Telemundo and NBC Nightly News anchor Jose Diaz-Balart, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd and MSNBC news anchor Rachel Maddow.
On the Daily Show, which aired right after the debate, Noah called the event “an epic showdown between nine normal-sized people and Bill de Blasio.” He identified the biggest name on the stage to be Elizabeth Warren, polling in the lead. She talked about evil corporations, universal health care: “It was all really very standard, very Elizabeth Warren, as normal as a man walking a chicken in Brooklyn,” said Noah.
The late-night host then turned his attention to O’Rourke. “Beto O’Rourke, wow, he knows there’s one way to spice up a bland affair.” [cue him speaking Spanish] “To hear my answer in English, press 1 … This guy was so fluent, I bet half of America felt they had flipped to Univision by mistake.”
Referencing Inslee trying to get the moderators’ attention, Noah said, “Poor Jay Inslee spent the night trying to order a drink from a bartender who didn’t realize he was there. … C’mon, man, how are you going to get the nomination if you can’t even get a vodka soda?”
And finally, Noah highlighted Delaney, who he said no one knew. “You know what he should do? He should say his name every time he gets applause … like a Democratic DJ Khaled.”
Noah called the debate “stressful,” and mentioned more than once that there are many more debates to come.
The Daily Show then showed a satirical video starring correspondents Roy Wood Jr., Desi Lydic, Dulcé Sloan, Jaboukie Young-White, Michael Kosta and Ronny Chieng about how NBC figured out how to fit 20 candidates onstage (spoiler: they decided to split the debate up into two nights).
In his Late Show monologue, Colbert poked fun at the debate’s technical issues and how people talked over each other during question, calling it “an excellent dress rehearsal for tomorrow’s actual debate.” Colbert especially had fun with O’Rourke and Booker’s use of Spanish in responses to two different debate questions: O’Rourke was “running for embarrassing dad at a Mexican restaurant,” he said, while when Booker responded in Spanish later, Colbert responded, “Oh, snap!”
The CBS late-night host also took shots at Inslee, who at one point in the debate compared McDonald’s top executives’ pay to workers “slinging hash” in each store. He joked, “You know, to the workers slinging hash with two sunny sides on rye, ‘Hi, I’m Jay Inslee and I’ve never stepped inside a McDonalds.’”
Colbert and bandleader Jon Batiste additionally performed a bit where they stepped over one another’s mics, satirizing the audio issue that made NBC moderator Chuck Todd cut to a commercial break during the debate. “It’s really embarrassing to have a live show when you don’t know whose mic is on or off,” Colbert joked.
Colbert’s guest of the evening was U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who provided commentary on the evening, but not before the live audience chanted “AOC!” as she stepped onto the stage. Of the Spanish spoken in the debates, Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, said, “I loved it, because I represent the Bronx, there was a lot of Spanglish in the building. I thought it was humorous at times. … I thought it was a good gesture to the fact that we are a diverse country.”
She compared the gathered candidates to a “high school classroom” and said that some candidates acted as if they hadn’t “read the book” before they got “called on,” but would not name who she believed was unprepared. As for candidates who would be asked back, she said Warren, Castro and Booker would return. In terms of underdogs Delaney and Ryan, she said, “sometimes you break out.”
As for her critiques of how the debate was moderated: “I don’t think we are discussing climate change the way we need to be discussing it,” Ocasio-Cortez said, “It is such a huge, broad, systemic issue, and you can’t just say, ‘Will Miami exist in 50 years?'”
Over on Late Night, host Seth Meyers joked in his monologue that Elizabeth Warren was the only candidate polling in the two digits, but in New York de Blasio also got “two digits,” showing a picture of a person holding his middle fingers up to de Blasio. Meyers also joked that in Delaney’s closing statements, the candidate said, “Sorry, even I forgot I was here.”
Meyers also devoted his “Closer Look” segment to the debate, noting that no matter how viewers felt about the candidates, “It was refreshing to see sane human beings speaking coherent sentences on television for a change.”
Like his fellow hosts, Meyers homed in on O’Rourke’s initial answer in Spanish: “I mean, I knew he was going to bust out in Spanish, I just didn’t know how quickly,” he joked.
Meyers also focused on the “side-eye” that Booker gave O’Rourke during his Spanish answer: “That’s not the face of a man who said, ‘I can’t believe you’re pandering, you’re speaking Spanish,’ but it’s actually the face of a man thinking, ‘Oh man, I was gonna do that!'” Meyers said, then showing a clip of Booker’s Spanish answer later. “You know everyone in tomorrow’s debate who wasn’t going to speak Spanish is going to spend the night cramming,” Meyers said.
Of Ryan’s answer to one question, where he looked surprised to be asked it, Meyers joked, “Tim Ryan always looked like his dog just talked. Rusty, did you just say ‘Good morning?'”
Meyers similarly didn’t fail to comment on NBC’s audio glitch mid-show: To moderators Todd and Maddow, Meyers said, “Maybe you guys should have spent more time checking the audio and less time saying ‘hi’ to each other. I’m surprised Maddow didn’t take out a tool kit: ‘I can fix it!'”
Over on The Tonight Show, host Jimmy Fallon recapped the Democratic debate during his monologue.
He compared the debate to the Super Bowl “if 20 teams played the game over two nights and the winner wasn’t decided for another year.”
The host kicked off his coverage of the debate by discussing O’Rourke’s decision to speak Spanish. “Trump was watching like, ‘Crap, did I hit the SAP button?'” he joked. Fallon then touched on Booker’s response in Spanish, which he said sounded “like Arnold Schwarzenegger learning Rosetta Stone.”
Fallon shared that he thought Warren and Booker did good jobs during the debate, though added that he was also impressed with de Blasio. “The New Yorkers were like, ‘Where the hell’s this frickin’ guy been?'” he said.
The debate’s technical issues were also a target of Fallon’s jokes. “Vladimir Putin was like, ‘It’s too easy,'” he said with a Russian accent.
Trump was vocal on Twitter that he thought the debate was boring and Fallon joked that the night’s candidates were nowhere near as exciting as “the rock stars he usually hangs out with like Mike Pence and Steve Mnuchin.”
“I think I know why Trump’s upset. He’s probably jealous of the Democrats,” Fallon said. “They got to be on TV, they got to talk about themselves and they got to be in Florida. He’s like, ‘These are my three favorite things. I can’t believe it.'”
Fallon later shared a clip that introduced the Democratic candidates to those who didn’t watch the debate. After the clips of the candidates introducing themselves set to a song played, the candidates shared their policies as clips of Trump stating that he won’t be defeated also played.
The host also performed a song that was full of advice for the Democratic candidates.
“When you’re running for the White House/ And you want to get ahead/ You gotta get attention/ Or else your campaign’s dead,” he sang. “Just don’t become a meme.”
The song continued as Fallon warned the candidates to not become an internet meme. “You gotta keep your image clean/ Don’t’ become a meme/ Some things can’t be unseen,” he sang.
Fallon then highlighted some politicians’ most meme-able moments, including Ted Cruz elbowing his wife in the face, Trump being rejected after trying to give a high five, Hillary Clinton opening her jaw and Jeb Bush asking a crowd to applaud for him.
“Everything you do ends up on YouTube,” Fallon warned in the song. “And if you wanna be sure/ That your supporters do not vanish/ Keep this in your head/ Don’t ever try to speak Spanish if you don’t know how.” The last piece of advice was followed by a clip of Trump attempting to speak the language.
These hosts will present another live show Thursday for the second installment of the Democratic debate, which features Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.
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