Late-Night Show Hosts Tape Without Live Audiences, Revealing That They’re Not That Funny

You don’t know a good thing until it’s gone. The latest casualty of the coronavirus outbreak are live audiences for late-night shows. If you thought canned laughter on sitcoms was bad, silence during a late-night show is 10 times worse.

The absence of a riled-up bunch of fans was particularly palpable last week when Stephen Colbert hosted The Late Show with only a small group of staff members in the audience and the Stay Human band on stage. Colbert chose to forgo the standing monologue and sat behind his desk instead – where apparently funny goes to die. While the band’s frontman, Jon Batiste, did his best to volley with Colbert, the duo’s repartee wasn’t funny in the slightest.

“We’re just kind of winging it. This is rehearsal right now, which might be a good thing,” Colbert said. “Because in my mind, all of my jokes are perfect. The only person that ever disagrees with me is the audience. Can’t disagree with me now, can you? Ha!” Cue crickets.

Even the cutaway bits, like a pair of West Side Story cast members fighting in hazmat suits, didn’t tickle the funny bone. Every joke landed like a brick. “Right now, I’m imagining your laughter,” Colbert said. (Imagine away, Stephen, because in reality none of us were LOLing.) Throughout the show, Colbert frequently sipped from a glass of what appeared to be bourbon, making us wonder if the show was as painful for him to host as it was for us to watch.

The new audience-free format begs the question: are late-night hosts even funny without an audience? We’re terrified that they’re not, and we hope the one-man-laughing set-up doesn’t become the new norm in late-night TV or we’ll have to get our guffaws elsewhere.

Cover Photo: CBS Photo Archive / Contributor (Getty Images)

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