Screengrab via Full Frontal with Samantha Bee / YouTube

Late-night TV responds to Trump’s win with fear, outrage, and hope

But they pledged to keep a vigil eye on him once he's sworn in.


Michelle Jaworski


Published Nov 10, 2016   Updated May 25, 2021, 3:00 pm CDT

On his live election special Tuesday night, Stephen Colbert attempted to make sense of what was happening as more Electoral College votes rolled in for Donald Trump. But now that Trump won the election, the hosts of late-night who struggled and have been comedically stumped by Trump—well, they’re still at a loss for words amidst feelings of horror.

They’ve spent 18 months mocking, insulting, “eviscerating,” and using their platform to call foul on most of Trump’s proposed policies—and, in one particular case, were accused of normalizing and humanizing a racist and sexist presidential candidate.

But now they’re faced with a very real Trump presidency, and they met it with the sober, brutally honest humor and attempts to comfort everyone watching with language that echoes how they addressed tragedies.

For Colbert, it still hasn’t sunk in. Introducing his show, he opted for honesty, telling the audience that he’s “not sure what to believe about anything anymore.” This show was live, too, so Colbert was able to comment on the protests happening across America over Trump’s win.

“There’s no way around it. This is what it feels like when America is made great again,” he said, adding, “I was really hoping it would feel better because this sucks.”

Seth Meyers, who began hating on Trump in 2011, went more for the empathetic approach. Yes, this isn’t how he imagined the election would turn out, but he believes that some of Trump’s supporters had valid concerns and he wanted to treat them as such. He hoped that since Trump has flip-flopped on every issue except for his hatred of Rosie O’Donnell, he isn’t as racist as his rhetoric to voters made out him to be. He also hoped that one of the girls or women who were watching this would someday become the first female president.

On the other hand, since Meyers—who offered Trump a full season to be fake president on NBC if he abandoned the presidency—has been wrong about Trump’s campaign every step of the way, he made a bold prediction in hopes that it too didn’t come true.

“But the good news is, based on this pattern of me being wrong on every one of my Donald Trump predictions, he’s probably going to be a great fucking president,” Meyers said. “Let’s just hope this trajectory holds.”

Conan O’Brien took more of the historical approach, noting how we’ve had bitter elections and terrible presidents in the past

“I was watching President Obama and Hillary Clinton speak today about a peaceful transfer of power, and it gave me chills,” he said. “Now, today, Americans have the right to feel happy, angry, pessimistic, optimistic, but everybody should feel grateful that we get to vote, and if we don’t get our way, we have the chance to try again. It is a beautiful thing.”

Samantha Bee channeled her rage. She joked that her writing staff—the most diverse in late-night TV—were mostly too upset or angry to make jokes about it, and she put part of the blame on white people, who overwhelmingly voted for Trump—and she will not tolerate claims of #NotAllWhitePeople from white people who didn’t vote for him.

But she too was hopeful that one day a woman would be president and called for everyone—especially white women—to “work off” some karma for the 2018 midterms election

“If Ms. Rodham’s not in the White House, that’s okay. One of those girls is going to be,” Bee said. “We still have millions of nasty women who are not going away. And as long as women over 25 are still allowed on television, I’ll be here cheering them on. Although that may only be until late January.”

They may not know what to do now, but they will continue to do their diligence in a platform meant for comedy that has transformed into its own kind of journalism.

“Donald Trump made a lot of promises as to what he’s going to do in the next four years, and now we get to see if he can fulfill them,” Meyers said on an end note. “And so, I’d just like to make one promise to him: We here at Late Night will be watching you.”

The rest of late-night TV will be, too.

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*First Published: Nov 10, 2016, 11:30 am CST