Late Night Comedians Have a Right to Take Political Sides

After all, the president himself is a former primetime star.

Story by Chad Lyle

The 2016 election cycle brought out the worst in everyone — except late-night comedians. While average Americans watched their social media timelines descend into unholy mayhem, and Thanksgiving turned into a fun game of passive-aggressive opinion swapping, television hosts that capitalized on the fray were enjoying banner years. And it was not only the usual suspects when it comes to political satire. Other hosts joined the likes of Samantha Bee, John Oliver and the Daily Show. The network television line-up of late night hosts is also more popular than ever, and not because it’s sticking to neutrality. The newly minted activists in primetime have not let up since the election, drawing both praise and criticism along the way.

Jimmy Kimmel delivered a moving and emotional monologue about his newborn son’s experience with open heart surgery amidst one of the Senate’s many efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In his remarks, Kimmel hardly stayed on the sidelines of political discourse and made known his steadfast opposition to any attempt to roll back the protections of Obamacare. After the Las Vegas shooting, Kimmel joined his respective NBC and CBS counterparts, Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert, in taking the Republican-controlled Congress to task for inaction in the face of a gun violence epidemic.

Many have been critical of this new tone adopted by comedians at major networks, who used to follow an almost journalistic code of mocking both the left and the right. Especially unsettled are those who do not share the views of Kimmel, Meyers and Colbert on issues like healthcare and gun violence. A common refrain amongst this group is to tell these gentlemen to stick to comedy. “Shut up Jimmy Kimmel, you elitist creep,” said a "Washington Times" headline addressed to the comedian in wake of his child’s life-saving operation. After Kimmel used his show to call for tougher gun control policies, the “conservative” (a self-applied label) artist Sabo distributed a series of posters around Los Angeles for a non-existent program called the Jimmy Kimmel Estrogen Hour.

Photo courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter

Photo courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter

While the “elitist creep” argument is used more often than sexist gibes to dismiss the controversial opinions of celebrities, it is useful to remember that President Trump himself rose to prominence not as a public servant but as a celebrity.

Of course there is a good argument to be made that Hollywood should elevate more conservative voices, but the idea that a celebrity should not be allowed to claim moral authority on an issue is ridiculous. Donald Trump’s only personal stake in the immigration debate before the 2016 election is that he staffed his businesses with foreign workers — unusual behavior for Captain “America First”. If Trump can become the public face of American nationalism, it should be more than acceptable for Kimmel to discuss healthcare.