Late-night talk shows are getting political, but is it all about the ratings?

Late-night talk shows are getting political, but is it all about the ratings?

Though President Obama fought hard to make sure the Affordable Care Act went through, the GOP seems determined to strip Americans of their healthcare coverage. While American politics is as divided as it’s ever been, there seems to be a new element on the political scene that may have never been there before.

For evidence of this, just check out Jimmy Kimmel’s show.


Kimmel originally made waves when he described in detail an open heart surgery that his baby son had to have to save his life.

Still, the story had a more political message as well. Using the anecdote as an example, Kimmel made an impassioned plea that the audience become more involved in the decisions that politicians made about healthcare, touting it as a non-partisan issue. Though the initial show had plenty of positive feedback, it also drew criticism that Kimmel was “politicizing” his son’s illness.

Still, Kimmel wasn’t done.


Another attempt at repealing Obamacare was made in the form of the Graham-Cassidy Health Care Bill, a proposed change with a long list of tweaks and adjustments. Still, there were fears that it would result in many people without coverage once again.

To fight back, Jmmy Kimmel once again took to the bully pulpit.


Talk shows have become increasingly valuable political real estate since Donald Trump was elected.

The common wisdom is that old talk show hosts were typically less political than today’s counterparts. After all, comedy’s main target is supposed to be hypocrisy rather than any specific political position.

Often held up as the peak of late-night neutrality, Johnny Carson was notoriously apolitical. 

The most pointed Carson got was poking fun at Democratic Senator Gary Hart’s marital infidelities. Still, his comments had an effect on Hart’s campaign for president, which he eventually lost.

In many ways, David Letterman was a student of Johnny Carson and again, his politics were relatively inscrutable.

When Letterman started out, his first targets seemed to be television, irony and the general fake-ness of what we see on TV.

For those who have a little time, Letterman’s first episode can be seen below—and it’s full of bizarre moments. 

Still, as Letterman got older, he became more and more politically outspoken. One of his favorite topics was former President George W. Bush. In particular, he put together a top 10 George W Bush moments.


Jimmy Fallon, who took over Jay Leno’s mostly neutral (if slightly conservative) show, mostly maintained a fair and safe space for everyone as well. Still, given the highly political times we live in, Fallon caught some flak for playing so gently with Trump in an interview while he was running for president.

Specifically, Fallon's decision to tousle Trump’s hair drew wide criticism as “humanizing” him.

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To remedy that, even Fallon has gotten into the political arena, particularly with his unusually pointed statements about racial tension in Charlottesville.

Although we’d like to think that talk shows are or at least were an apolitical space, the truth is that talk shows have always played an important part in politics. After all, political satire has always been a major component of comedy.

Still, the question remains: why have today’s talk shows become so stridently political?

Is this shift a result of the shifting politics of the talk show hosts and writers themselves? Is it a response to audience demands? Is it a comment on the failings of mainstream journalism to accurately and thoroughly report on politics? Though theories abound, it looks like aggressive politics in late night shows are here to stay.

Tell us your theories in the comments section below.