'Doing Nothing Is Cowardice': How Late-Night Hosts Addressed Vegas

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Stephen Colbert addresses his audience, Oct. 2, 2017.
Stephen Colbert addresses his audience, Oct. 2, 2017.

It's become a grim American ritual: In the wake of a mass shooting, TV viewers collectively turn to late-night hosts for messages of comfort and clarity. And so these funny men turn serious, their live studio audiences fall silent and for five or so minutes before bedtime—a safe distance from the painful images and unbearable frenzy of cable news—we approximate national introspection.

In his opening statement on "The Late Show," Stephen Colbert asked "What are we willing to do to combat pure evil? The answer can't be nothing. It's can't. ... Doing nothing is cowardice."

Jimmy Kimmel, who grew up in Las Vegas, fought back tears on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" as he spoke of the aftermath of the massacre: "Children without parents, fathers without sons, mothers without daughters. ..." He also deconstructed the logic of American politicians' response to terrorism: "When someone with a beard attacks us, we tap phones, we invoke travel bans, we build walls—we take every possible precaution to make sure it doesn't happen again. But when an American buys a gun and kills other Americans, then there's nothing we can do about that." And as Emma Hall noted in this morning's Ad Age Wake-Up call, he publicly shamed the 56 senators who voted against closing loopholes on background checks after the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

On "The Daily Show," Trevor Noah outlined how the now-standard response to mass shootings plays out: "We're shocked, we're sad, 'thoughts and prayers,' and then almost on cue people are going to come out saying, 'Whatever you do, when speaking about the shootings, don't talk about guns'"—specifically, gun control.

On "Late Night," Seth Meyers addressed politicians who insist it's not appropriate to talk about gun control right after a mass shooting: "It would be so much more honest if you would just admit that your plan is to never talk about it and never take any action. ... If you're not willing to do anything, just be honest and tell us: 'This is how it is, this is how it will continue to be.'"

On "Conan," Conan O'Brien said that "Today, when I came into work, my head writer was standing in my office with a sheaf of papers. And he said 'Here are the remarks you made after the Sandy Hook shootings and the Pulse nightclub attacks in Orlando. You might wanna look at them to see what you might wanna say tonight.' And that—that struck me. How could there be a file of mass shooting remarks for a late-night host? When did that become normal?"

On "The Tonight Show," Jimmy Fallon kept his remarks exceedingly short: "This morning we woke up to the news of another senseless shooting, this time in Las Vegas. In the face of tragedies and acts of terror, we need to remember that good still exists in this world. We're here to entertain you tonight, and that's what we're gonna do." He then introduced Miley Cyrus, accompanied by Adam Sandler, who sang "No Freedom."

See also: "How TV Shows Handled Las Vegas Massacre"

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