By Claire Farrow
Trevor Noah became the newest face in the late night circuit on Sept. 28 as host of The Daily Show. Of course, 2015 has seen a huge upheaval and mantle changing in the realm of late night television talk shows. Staples such as David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Craig Ferguson left their long-held hosting duties this past spring, ushering in a new age of after-hours comedy.
While not all faces within this late night shakeup are unfamiliar, three iconic shows, The Late Show, The Daily Show, and the CBS 12:35 slot, received new ring leaders. With Stephen Colbert’s change in hosting venue, a new comedy central series, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, opened its doors this past January.
But just how exactly do these men hold up against each other? Is there a definitive king of late night? Here is a run-down of the highlights and struggles of the late night crowd.
The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (Weeknights at 11:30 ET)
Must-watch: He is attuned to social issues, and is able to call out the absurdity of many politicians stances on hot topic issues such as race, gender, and sexuality.
Skippable: His act is similar to that of contemporaries Trevor Noah and John Oliver, and unlike Noah and Oliver, his persona doesn’t seem to stand out as much.
Highlight: Calling out Kim Davis’ “Anti-gay Crusade.”
Late Late Show with James Corden
Must-watch: James Corden’s greatest gift to mankind is his interaction with celebrities that go beyond the normal interview–namely “Filmography” and “Carpool Karaoke,” which allows him to stand out as a talented entertainer himself. In fact, his smooth and charismatic persona is somewhat reminiscent of Johnny Carson, although Corden has clearly carved a distinct style. Corden, like his predecessor Ferguson, is from the U.K.; adding diversity to the American-heavy lineup across cable.
Skippable: Reggie Watt’s segments. Although they are entertaining, they don’t seem to fit in with the show as a whole.
Highlight: “English Breakfast with Matilda and Gordon Ramsay,” and “Dodgeball with One Direction.”
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Weeknights at 11:00 ET)
Must-watch: His solo commentary. This young South African newcomer brings a fresh, slightly more global feel to The Daily Show. He is clearly having fun and is infectious to the audience. When he speaks, it is like he is holding a conversation with you, because he seems to regard the camera as though it were a person’s eyes.
Skippable: His interviews. While kind and amiable, his charisma seems to fade away when he talks to guests on his show, as if he is no longer in charge. However, perhaps as the show progresses, his confidence and control will increase.
Highlight: Comparing Donald Trump to oppressive African (totalitarian) presidents.
Late Show with Stephen Colbert (Weeknights at 11:35 ET)
Must-watch: Already a veteran talk show host, Colbert changed from cable to network, inheriting The Late Show from David Letterman. Now, the established funnyman is bringing his flavor to a more traditional late night show. Colbert has a genuine presence about him and cuts to the chase during interviews. In his first show with presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, Colbert promptly stated: “There is a non zero chance I would vote for you.” Colbert also deviates from the mainstream when selecting musical acts; recently Yo-Yo Ma appeared on the show to play Gershwin.
Skippable: Most everything is interesting, but musical guests aren’t always 100% must-watch material.
Highlights: Stephen and James Corden sing “Me & My Shadow,” “Inspirables with Jim Gaffigan.”
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (Weeknights at 11:35 ET)
Must-watch: His many skits, such as “Evolution of Hip-Hop,” and of course “Lip-Sync Battle.” He is charismatic and collaborates well with celebrities, playing in a more SNL-esque setting.
Skippable: His interviews; he doesn’t have as great a handle on keeping the audience engaged in the interviews with celebrities. While Fallon’s spontaneous bouts of laughter are charming at first, they get old after the fourth or fifth time.
Highlights: “Lip Sync Battles With Famous Celebrities,” “Freestylin’ With the Roots,” “Wheel of Musical Impressions.”
Jimmy Kimmel Live! (Weeknights at 11:35 ET)
Must-watch: Mean Tweets. Who doesn’t love celebrities poking fun at themselves and enduring a bit of deprecation?
Skippable: His skits; his delivery isn’t nearly as good as other hosts and they inevitably fall flat.
Highlights: “Kids Explain Gay Marriage,” “Back-to-Back Interviews with Guillermo.”
Late Night With Seth Meyers (Weeknights at 12:35 ET)
Must-watch: His interviews. The questions he asks brings some of the best stories to light from celebrities.
Skippable: His opening monologues, while clever, come off as quite dry. Until he loosens up as a whole, Meyers will have a hard time getting people to stay up until 12:35 to watch him. His post-show “How it Went” is also unappealing.
Highlights: “Lightsaber Duel With Andy Samberg,” “Seth Brings John Snow to a Dinner Party.”
Conan (Weeknights at 11:00 ET)
Must-watch: His sarcasm is brilliant; so many of the quips he makes during his shows are generally hilarious.
Skippable: His show follows a similar formula as network shows, and his take on it doesn’t seem to be as strong as say Colbert, Meyers or Corden. Also, he can come off as a little sexist at times.
Highlights: “Clueless Gamer,” “Jordan Schlansky,” “Dave Franco & Conan Join Tinder.”
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (Sunday nights at 11 ET)
Must-watch: Everything. While the premise of Last Week Tonight is much like The Daily Show, John Oliver is able to go much more in-depth with his satire, and, because he’s on HBO, is also allowed to say whatever he’d like on air. He has unearthed many controversial issues, like FIFA’s corruption and Televangelist money schemes, making his show much more than just an entertainment venue.
Skippable: Nothing; 99.9% of what is said is hilarious and on point.
Highlights: “Food Waste,” “Sex Education,” “The IRS.”
Verdict: All hail King John Oliver! However, since he is only on once a week rather than five nights in a row, there is a slight shaky-ness to his title. Nonetheless, Oliver has captivated the nation, and (judging by his current streak) will continue to do so.
Claire Farrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org