The night after the day of the (current) worst mass shooting in American history is a tough fucking room if you’re doing a late-night comedy show. Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert on The Late Show, Seth Meyers on Late Night, and the hosts of The Late Late Show With James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and Conan, all took on the events in Las Vegas—where someone with a hotel room filled with automatic weapons shot almost 600 people, killing nearly 60—in their own ways. (On The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon brought out Miley Cyrus and Adam Sandler to cover Dido’s “No Freedom,” which is as good an idea as any on a night where nothing makes any damned sense.) But what all those others had in common in their introductory remarks—along with the all-too familiar shock of having to go on-air in front of a country in mourning—was a collective call of “bullshit” on anyone suggesting that this isn’t the time to talk about gun violence in America.
For Noah, the question for those lawmakers and pundits attempting to shush those calling for gun control was, “When is the time?” Pointing out that there is a mass shooting in this country nearly every single day, Noah said that putting off any discussion about guns for “an appropriate time” is another way of ensuring that lawmakers can continue to do nothing. Mocking the fact that Republicans in congress are planning a vote to deregulate silencers this week, and that a lot of the outrage on cable news today focused on hotel security rather than guns, Noah apologized to viewers that all he can say in the wake of yet another act of horrific gun violence is that he’s sorry that we live in a world where some people put more value on guns than on people’s lives.
James Corden, like Fallon, is more at home singing and playing games on his late-night show, but he brought his cuddly outsider’s perspective to an affectingly solemn plea for his second home to actually do something, this time. Noting that the events in Las Vegas comprise the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, Corden told his audience that that’s the second time that record’s now been broken in the two years he’s lived in America. Picking up on the theme that all the same old clichés about how living in fear of being shot is “the price of freedom,” Corden said that the fact that “every other developed country does a better job” in controlling gun violence makes such statements sound especially ignorant and foolish. As Corden did the math (59 dead in Las Vegas brings the number of Americans shot to death to 11,660, in 275 days), Corden quoted the late (as in shot to death) Robert Kennedy, stating, “Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.”
Conan O’Brien, like Trevor Noah, apologized, telling his silent audience that he knows that there are lots more people better qualified than he to speak. “I’m not the most political,” explained O’Brien, before noting that, on his way into work today, he was greeted by his head writer with his previous remarks on the mass shootings in Orlando, and Sandy Hook. “How can there be a file of mass shooting remarks for a late night host?,” asked O’Brien feelingly before continuing,“When did that become normal? When did this become a ritual, and what does it say about us that it has?” The notoriously pale Conan’s face looked whiter in bewildered shock and unaccustomed anger as he appealed to his audience, and to lawmakers, proclaiming, “The sounds of those automatic weapons last night are grotesquely out of place in a civilized society.”
Seth Meyers, unlike Conan, is political, and deeply critical of the Republican Party and the NRA for blocking even the merest hint of gun control. But, in his opening remarks, his voice carried the measured and controlled disgust of someone too embittered to get angry anymore. Noting that “the worst displays of humanity in this country” are usually followed—as this horror was today in Las Vegas—by the spectacle of Americans coming together to help and comfort each other, Meyers also noted with obvious frustration that that outpouring of generosity, compassion, and bravery is invariably “followed by no action—and then it repeats itself.” Mentioning Steve Scalise’s return to congress (after he was gunned down in another mass shooting in June), Meyers lauded the bi-partisan joy over his recovery while saying that if Scalise’s “miracle” in avoiding death at the hands of another jerk with an automatic weapon is the only plan congress has going forward, they should just come out and say so. Referencing all the inevitable offerings of “thoughts and prayers” from lawmakers who take millions of dollars from gun industry lobbying organization, the NRA, Meyers, never raising his tone, simply asked congress to tell us if we’re on our own. “To congress I would just like to say are there are steps we can take as a nation to prevent gun violence,” Meyers intoned, continuing, “If you’re not willing to do anything, just be honest and tell us, ‘This this how it is, this is how it’s going to continue to be.’ Instead of saying, ‘This isn’t the time to talk about it,’ just say ‘We’re never gonna talk about it.’”
Stephen Colbert, too, opened with a direct address, but his was to his nightly nemesis, Donald Trump. Perhaps in an appeal to Trump’s ego, Colbert challenged Trump to break the congressional, NRA-funded deadlock about gun control, telling him, “You do not owe the Republicans anything. You know they tried to stop you from becoming president, so screw ’em.” Noting that even Barack Obama had been unable to pass meaningful gun control in his two terms (a tactic which will work on Trump if nothing else will), Colbert urged the monumentally insecure Trump to, essentially, show who the bigger man is. At this point, Colbert seemed ready to try anything, sending the message to lawmakers that the bar is set so low on this issue that they “can be heroes for doing literally anything.” And as for those platitudinous thoughts and prayers, Colbert had the advice, “Think about what you need to do, and then pray for the courage to do it.”
But the most striking appeal for sanity came from Jimmy Kimmel. A Las Vegas native, Kimmel took to his Jimmy Kimmel Live! stage visibly shaken, intermittently choking back tears of sorrow and rage as he decried both the “very sick person” who perpetrated this unthinkable massacre, and those members of congress who allow their NRA benefactors to “smother it all with money,” when it comes time to act. Tearfully telling of the time when, as a teenager, he saw two Las Vegas hotels burn, killing scores of people (one who the young Kimmel saw plummet to his death), the host made the case that those twin tragedies saw changes in safety laws. “Why would we approach this differently?,” Kimmel asked, of a state of affairs in America where another mass shooting last night in Kansas that saw five people shot (three killed) “didn’t even make a blip.” Lambasting those lawmakers and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for telling Americans that this isn’t the time to talk about gun violence, Kimmel called out the hypocrisy of “so-called leaders” hiding behind those thoughts and prayers because “the NRA has their balls in a money clip.” Kimmel, his recent elevated profile in fighting Republicans’ attempts to steal healthcare from millions of people aside, isn’t known for being a political comedian, with the host conceding, “I want this to be a comedy show. I hate talking about stuff like this, but it seems to be becoming increasingly difficult lately. It’s like someone opened a window into hell.” And for people lecturing that “it’s not the time” to talk about gun control, Kimmel could only respond, “We have 59 people dead. It wasn’t their time either.”