Why Don’t Teens Like Late-Night Anymore?

Short answer: It’s not Jimmy Fallon’s fault.

Clive Fernandez, Staff Writer

In the 90s to early 2000s, Late-Night comedy was thriving, with shows like “The Tonight Show”, “Late Night”, “The Late Show”, and “The Daily Show” dominating the ratings. These shows brought in a large audience of people who would go to work groggy the next morning. These shows also broke into a demographic that is increasingly difficult to get through; teens. During this era, there were quite a lot of teens watching Late-Night nightly, or in the next morning while they got ready for school.

However, in more recent years, they seem to have lost the teen audience. Is it a case of teenagers losing a certain feeling for Late-Night? Have they just lost interest? Is the writing getting worse?

I surveyed 28 students, presenting them with a list of late night hosts and asking them to name the ones they recognized. Out of the 28, 21 students said they had heard of just one of them. Now you may be thinking, that’s a good amount, but actually if we look closer at the numbers, the majority of the ones who recognized any of them had only recognized 3. These 3 hosts being Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and James Corden. Now, this might not present itself as an issue, but there’s something you should know. 

All of these 3 hosts are famous for how much the internet hates them. People believe that Fallon is fake, Kimmel is annoying, and people also believe that Corden’s personality is fake, with also a slew of other issues with the first two, including doing blackface.

Knowing my generation, I believe that teens are converging all the hosts together, sort of thinking all of them are the same. Even I can admit I was once like this. However, I also know my generation is better than that. Or at least I think they are.

We also have to consider the cultural and political climate in the 90s-2000’s. The politics of the time (the Bush administration, 3 recessions, and of course, 9/11) were not great. So, naturally, many people turned to comedy to make them feel better, make them laugh, to comfort them. However with certain programs like “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report”, they informed the public as well.

When it comes to the cultural aspect, we look at the fact that Late-Night was very much in the culture. It was the only way you could see your favorite celebrities without buying a magazine, and also the only way you could see good stand-up comedians without having to go to comedy clubs yourself. Not to mention, back then people revered the people who hosted. Many comedians credit people like David Letterman or Conan O’Brien for getting them into comedy. 

So it was only natural that Late-Night drew a bigger teenage audience. People were looking to 11:30 PM to bring joy into their lives.

Now, while the political climate is pretty close to being just as bad as that political climate. So really, not much change there. However, the cultural climate has changed drastically. With the introduction of the internet into almost everyone’s everyday life, there hasn’t really been a need for late night talk shows anymore. In fact, people don’t really watch television anymore. This has massively affected the teen demographic, especially since teenagers are the biggest users of technology. 

When it comes to teenagers, there’s more things to watch than Late-Night. There’s YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. All of these platforms are photo or video based. Another thing these platforms have is comedy. Also politics. Sometimes both. But mostly focusing on comedy, we can see the effects of this. A lot of comedians have been plucked from the internet, one of the most famous being comedy sketch group Please Don’t Destroy, who have been hired as writers on “Saturday Night Live”.

So we know they aren’t bad. Many teens are flocking to different forms of comedy, and notably, these are much quicker and easier to digest. So to put it in teenspeak, there’s better things to watch than some old white guy on TV.

And of course, the simplest option, the writing has gotten lazier. It’s been a complaint not just made by teens but by everyone. 

One of the biggest examples I can name in support of this is “The Colbert Report” compared to “The Late Show”. From 2005-2014, Stephen Colbert hosted “The Colbert Report”, often hailed as “one of the best pieces of political satire” from that era. Now, Colbert hosts “The Late Show”, which has been hailed as “just okay”. 

So what happened during that time? I personally believe, as someone who watches “The Late Show” and watches old clips of “The Colbert Report”, that the writing did get a bit lazier. When I watch “The Late Show”, I don’t see myself laughing as much than when I do “The Colbert Report.”

So in conclusion, teens once enjoyed watching these comedy shows, but now seem to not. This is due to the culture and politics of then, the hosts of today, and the tech revolution. But it’s also due to the fact that the jokes and writing have gotten weaker. As much as I hate to admit it, the writing of today’s Late-Night shows pales in comparison to the writing of the earlier programs. To be frank, I don’t see a happy ending in sight. Late-Night as a whole is already a pretty dated format. And I think teens were just the first to see that.