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Jimmy Fallon, John Oliver lead late-night resurgence

By Sonny Sachdeva, November 26 2015 —

Late-night TV has gone through a significant cultural change over the past few years. Former industry leaders like David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jon Stewart have moved on from the silver screen, while a crop of fresh-faced clowns are taking their place.



But even though the medium’s former champions are gone, we’ve entered a golden age of light-hearted evening television talk. While it used to be just Letterman and Leno vying for attention each night, today’s viewer has a myriad of options to choose from, ranging from mindless tomfoolery to poignant yet humorous investigations into the social issues of our day. With talk shows now spread generously among the airwaves each evening, it’s tough to figure out which ones are worth a gander — but two stand out among the rest.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is the leader in the tomfoolery category. A Saturday Night Live and Late Night alum, Fallon has been a hit since joining the talk show fray, bringing a unique brand of positive comedy that stays away from the self-deprecating humour popular on late-night TV.

Film producer Nancy Juvonen, Fallon’s wife, once remarked to Rolling Stone magazine that “Jimmy sees life as an opportunity and happiness as a choice. He’s cheery in the morning. He wakes up happy. He gets the joke of life.”

That sentiment underlies the light-hearted cheer of Fallon’s Tonight Show, which combines comedy with exceptional musicality — courtesy of hip-hop titans The Roots, who serve as the show’s house band.

At the other end of the spectrum is Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Following the conclusion of Jon Stewart’s run as host of The Daily Show, which rose to become one of the top satirical news programs in TV history, it was assumed that Stewart’s successor, Trevor Noah, would retain the satire crown. However, it’s been Oliver and his HBO debut that have earned that title thus far.

A former correspondent and fill-in host on The Daily Show, Oliver is one of the few figures left on TV that brings the same mix of goofy charm and honest conviction that made Stewart such a success. He’s all for cracking wise, but it’s clear he truly cares about the issues he discusses, evidenced by the amount of time he spends with each segment.

Last Week Tonight has already earned its stripes as a crowd favourite, with clips of the show’s topical segments catching attention on YouTube. One of those was a 15-minute clip looking into the absurdity of the Canadian federal election, garnering nearly six-million views online.

While Fallon and Oliver lead the pack, late-night isn’t short on further talent. Stephen Colbert, formerly of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, has done a fine job since taking over Letterman’s Late Show, mixing his signature dry wit with a growing collection of memorable interviews. Tony Award-winner James Corden has thrived on The Late Late Show with bits like “Carpool Karaoke” finding success online. And veteran host Conan O’Brien, who cut his teeth as a writer for The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live before launching his successful hosting career, now reigns as the genre’s elder statesman on Conan.

Regardless of whether you’re looking for a simple laugh or a socially-aware brand of comedy, the expanded late-night landscape is set to continue thriving with its promising new class.

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