Andrew Ferguson wrote about last weekend’s White House Correspondents Dinner before the dinner:
Ron Chernow, the best-selling biographer and historian, has agreed to deliver the after-dinner speech at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, to be held Saturday night at the Washington Hilton. If we were to list the potential victims of our present era of post-humor comedy, his name would be near the top.
The WHCD is the event the Washington press corps throws every year to celebrate the Washington press corps. (If we don’t do it, it won’t get done.) It is best understood as a provincial trade meeting—a few hundred people in the same line of work crowd together in the poorly ventilated ballroom of a second-tier hotel to hand one another awards over plates of undercooked chicken. What separates the correspondents’ dinner from, say, the annual awards dinner of the Greater Tri-County Regional Conference of Waste Removal Technicians is that, sometime in the 1990s, people from outside the trade began to take an interest in the event.
That prompted Warren Henry to write of Ferguson:
He diagnoses polarization as late-night’s cause of death: “Jokes that nearly everyone understands as jokes require shared assumptions, even a broad reservoir of lightheartedness and goodwill, and we no longer share those in our fractured republic. Humor has been privatized.” This theory rings partly true, but Ferguson already captured the better explanation: “nobody seems to be trying.” This is what television writers say while admitting their shows have become unwatchable.
At Mel magazine, one network late-night writer tells author Miles Klee: “[E]very single person in late night knows it’s a dumb factory of lazy ideas… [The host] makes fun of it, the head writers make fun of it, the staff writers watch the tapings and just lament it all. But the alternative is taking a risk, and network TV just isn’t about that.”
Sadly, the television writers (and Klee) suggest two solutions to the awfulness of late-night shows that would only make them worse.
First, writers suggest the shows are not sufficiently leftist. The aforementioned scribe told Klee “the late night writers’ rooms are all extremely homogeneous groups of cynical, miserable white comedy dudes who figure out the ‘formula’ for the show early on and then never really work harder than they need to. Which makes sense, because the other big thing is that the people who make the actual decisions on these shows are all older, white dudes who are out of touch (but don’t think they are) and are never thinking in terms of comedy or upending power or doing anything interesting with the format…”