Late-Night Laughs is Deadline’s weekly look at the business of jokes after dark. We focus on the biggest topics in the world of late-night, the people who make these shows tick and the moments that go viral. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with tips or suggestions.
This week, we ask whether late-night is a timeslot or a tone, talk to The Late Late Show co-head writers Ian Karmel and Lauren Greenberg about crafting gags and sketches for James Corden and look at the weirdest and most wonderful clips of the week.
What Time Is Late-Night?
“Late-night is not a time but a state of mind.”
These are the words of Peacock’s EVP, comedy development Dan Shear, a man who was instrumental in bringing Larry Wilmore back to the medium for his eponymous show and promoting Amber Ruffin from Late Night with Seth Meyers writer to star of her own show.
Shear came up with this phrase to use as a tagline internally as the NBCUniversal streamer was figuring out how it could think differently about the genre. Both of these shows ‘drop’ on Fridays at around 9pm Eastern or 6pm on the West Coast. The significance of the timing is that while they are both considered late-night shows, albeit ones with slightly more evergreen content, and share many of the beats and the tone with the likes of The Late Show and The Tonight Show, no one is forced to stay up late to watch.
But it is also indicative of a broader shift in late-night, perpetuated by the rapid growth of digital platforms.
I, for one, generally watch the best of the night’s clips at around 10pm on YouTube streamed on my television or catch up those I missed the next morning.
CBS’ The Late Late Show airs at 12:37am. However, James Corden and his team don’t focus on the timeslot. Exec producer Ben Winston tells Deadline, “We’re not on at 12:37am, we launch our show at 12:37am. The way we think about the show is how it’s shared the next day. Our competition isn’t what’s on at 12:30am, our competition is anything anyone is watching throughout the next 24 hours on their TVs or laptops. We make a loud fun variety show every night, we’re not making a ‘let’s be quiet, someone’s about to fall asleep’ show.”
This is why The Late Late Show has 25M subscribers to its YouTube page, which has received around 9B views. Winston is more likely to check these numbers than the Nielsen ratings the morning after a show. “The new generation isn’t growing up with a schedule and, therefore, we’re making a show that people can find whenever they want to find it,” he adds.
Similarly, NBC airing A Little Late with Lilly Singh at 1:30am makes less sense if the host, who broke through thanks to her YouTube videos, wasn’t regularly going viral. The network is the only broadcaster to program in this slot and could have cut it after the end of Last Call with Carson Daly but decided to use it as a spot to experiment. Former NBC Entertainment co-chairman George Cheeks, who is now President and CEO of CBS Entertainment, called it a “creative playground”. At the time, he admitted it wasn’t a linear ratings play but rather a play for relevancy in the digital world.
Lilly Singh told Deadline that the linear timeslot is less important than it used to be. “I would love for my slot to not be so, so late. But having said that, people watch most of my show online and we’re well aware of that, NBC’s well aware of that. It doesn’t bother us by any means,” she says.
But she admits that being on linear television does have its place. “Another thing that’s blown me away is everyone I’ve met thus far who’s approached me about the show has always said to me ‘I stay up until 1:30am to watch it’. And I’m like I don’t even do that so like thank you, honestly. I guess people are staying up to watch it when they can, which is very flattering to me. But I think even if I did have an earlier time slot I still wouldn’t change the way I cater to the online audience.”
Singh, who is set to start filming the second season of A Little Late later this fall, is one of a number of late-night hosts who have also been handed her own occasional primetime spot. Later this year, she will star in a two-part primetime sketch special – Sketchy Times with Lilly Singh.
Her NBC colleague Seth Meyers also went primetime this week with a special around his A Closer Look political segment on Thursday. The show was essentially a longer version of his nightly segment, 21 minutes as opposed to 15 minutes with a few ads thrown in, as the former SNL writer said. But is the move a dastardly ploy to test a regular primetime outing? The answer is probably more routine and down to the global pandemic. “The only reason I’m on primetime right now is because they had to shut down production on Superstore for a few months. Come back, Superstore. I like my normal time slot, where I can say the f-word and they can bleep it in post,” he joked.
Jimmy Kimmel has also been dribbling into primetime this week with his 13th iteration of Jimmy Kimmel Live: Game Night, featuring the likes of Jamie Foxx, Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Aniston, airing after the NBA finals.
I’m not suggesting NBC’s controversial decision to launch The Jay Leno Show at 10pm back in 2009 was ahead of its time (and after November, we may well be due another apology from Kanye West), but I imagine the question of when does late-night start will only continue to be asked as the world goes more digital.
Clips Of The Week: Corden Sings & Hosts Cover The VP Debate
“Maybe I’m immune because I’m feeling so alive, just don’t be afraid of the way I’m breathing,” sang James Corden after another crazy week with The President of the United States. The host of The Late Late Show did his friend Paul McCartney proud with his version of the former Beatle’s Maybe I’m Amazed. Elsewhere, The Daily Show’s gonzo correspondent Jordan Klepper went to a Trump rally, The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon got his hands on some footage of Mike Pence preparing for the Vice Presidential debate, which was covered extensively across late-night including by The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel Live! Colbert had Jerry Seinfeld on, while Kimmel talked to Bill Murray. Timothy Olyphant also had an unusual way of promoting his latest project, FX’s Fargo, on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
Rising Stars: ‘The Late Late Show’s Lauren Greenberg & Ian Karmel
Deadline is shining a spotlight on some of the most exciting writers to rise up on the late-night beat. Who are the scribes that will go on to run shows, host, perform and create the the hottest comedies on TV and film?
This week’s focus is on The Late Late Show’s co-head writers Lauren Greenberg and Ian Karmel.
Greenberg (left) and Karmel became co-head writers on the CBS show, hosted by James Corden, in August 2018 and have been responsible for breakout sketches including Crosswalk Musical, which has featured the likes of Will Smith and Harry Styles, and Emoji News.
Greenberg moved to Los Angeles and worked in an office job before Twitter helped her get a break. “I was writing scripts, and then went through a bad breakup and started tweeting about it in the days when Twitter was still fun, and from there got meetings with managers. This was over the course of like a few years, it wasn’t just instant,” she tells Deadline.
She subsequently became a writer on Love You, Mean It with Whitney Cummings and worked on a pilot with CBS late-night exec Nick Bernstein. She was one of the few Americans to have seen Corden’s hit British comedy Gavin & Stacey. “I was such a huge fan of that show that I had to submit a packet and got a message from James Corden saying ‘How do you feel about changing the future of late night?’”
Karmel, meanwhile, is a stand-up comedian who started in Portland before getting his break at the Just For Laughs festival (“the NBA draft of being a stand-up comedian”). Four days after arriving in LA, he got a job writing on Chelsea Lately. After the E! show ended, he did a pilot for ABC before meeting Corden. “I met him at Soho House at two in the afternoon and he was just sitting in the corner and like nobody was looking at him. Nobody knew who he was here, so I just walked over and we did a little bullshitting for like two hours. It was a super fun conversation, and then I got hired and it’s been amazing,” he says.
Karmel says it was never his plan to write for late-night. “It was never like a goal of mine or even anything that I thought I would enjoy doing, but once I met James and like hit it off with him so well and like I feel like our senses of humor really mesh well. I was like ‘I’m going to do this for as long as he wants to keep doing this because I really like writing for him’. He can do everything, it’s amazing.”
The pair had to spend the last few months writing a show that was based in Corden’s garage before returning to the studio in August. Greenberg says that they changed the way that the Brit does his opening beats. “I think our monologues, I wouldn’t say they’re better but they’re really fun, to just have it be really loose and him go to Ian and the band and me once in a while. It just feels like that’s what everyone’s doing right now, they’re just talking about ‘isn’t this crazy?’ It’s like it feels relatable.”
Karmel has, in fact, became a more noticeable presence on screen during the pandemic with a side spot for him to banter with Corden. “That’s been really, really fun. When we came back into the studio and we didn’t have, like we couldn’t have an audience, we wanted to figure out how to make it feel as full as possible. I love bullshitting with him,” he says.
The pair have an interesting dynamic; Greenberg is the quieter joke teller and, as Karmel says “incredibly on top of everything and I’m less so”, while Karmel is more the traditional stand-up creation. “I think when they brought us on as co-head writers it’s like we just have different strengths that balance each other out. I wouldn’t say there’s like a division because there’s some days we need Ian to be more on or in standup mode,” she says. “She probably works harder than me and I feel bad about it. But it works, it works well,” he adds.
Late-night writers have regularly gone on to create television comedies and feature films. Greenberg says that they both think about this a lot. “I feel like most writers, including myself, are always working on like a script on the side,” she says. “I think we both just like writing jokes and comedy and I’d be happy to do that in any format, whether it be scripted or more late night for the right host after James.” Karmel jokes, “Anyone who will hire us.”
Karmel himself has become on-screen talent this summer with CBS’ comedy panel show Game On!, a remake of the Corden-hosted British show A League Of Their Own. “That was so much fun. I’m a huge sports fan and like every show I got to be next to Venus Williams and across from Rob Gronkowski, and then like they would cycle in all these amazing athletes. I wish panel shows were bigger here,” he adds.