The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Late-night TV hosts express shock at close election: ‘I feel like I overestimated the American people’

Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and more joked about delayed election results and President Trump's response on Nov. 4. (Video: The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Most of the late-night TV hosts had a critical caveat when they delivered their monologues Wednesday night.

“There’s never been a more important time to mention that we tape this show at 5 p.m. But as of this taping, the winner of the presidential election has not been determined and votes are still being counted in several key states,” said NBC’s “Late Night” host Seth Meyers. “Of course, you’re watching this at 12:35 tonight, or maybe sometime Thursday afternoon. So if Trump won, will you please get in a time machine and come back to find and kill me.”

That was the general vibe from the late-night comedians, who, like much of the rest of the country, spent Wednesday experiencing extreme anxiety as they waited for more results to trickle in from swing states. (By the time the shows aired, there was still no official call; The Washington Post reported Joe Biden at 253 electoral votes and President Trump at 214.)

“It’s all coming down to a few states where they’re still counting votes, in North Carolina, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania — a hybrid mix of the Sun Belt and the Rust Belt that I’m calling the ‘Does Anyone Have a Xanax? Belt,’ ” Stephen Colbert said on CBS’s “Late Show.”

But even without concrete answers, they had TV shows to deliver. Here are just some of the topics that Meyers, Colbert, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and James Corden all mocked.

Shock that the election is so close

Kimmel: “I’m very happy and relieved that it looks like we’re finally sending this monster back to Mar-a-Lago. But I’m also shocked that it was this close. I mean, we reunited the cast of every movie and TV show ever made to win this election. It is unimaginable to me that close to half of American voters saw what this man has done to this country over the last four years [reads long list that includes 'he dismantled the pandemic response team’ and ‘he called neo-Nazis ‘very fine people’] and almost half of us are apparently okay with that. Half of us want to keep it going for four more years. … What more did Trump have to do to show us that he’s insane and not fit to lead this country? I feel like I overestimated the American people. And I underestimated the Village People.”

Fallon: “Apparently a lot of voters looked at 90,000 covid cases a day and said, ‘Sure, I can do four more years of this.’ ”

Corden: “Obviously, the election was much closer than anyone had predicted. Despite a large turnout from voters, there was no crashing blue wave. I mean, how does this happen? Even after the Democrats got the cast of ‘Parks and Rec’ to reunite over Zoom. Think about it: the entire cast. I thought that would be the turning point, but no. I don’t know how that didn’t speak to Republican voters.”

Trump’s multiple false statements in his Wednesday speech

(Namely, this quote: “This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country,” Trump said early Wednesday morning at the White House. “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”)

Meyers: “No, you haven’t won those states. You might win some of them once the counting is done. Or you might lose them, but the counting isn’t done. For example, I don’t know what’s going to happen in Georgia. But as we’re taping this, there are more votes to count in Democratic areas, and that godforsaken New York Times needle has it tilting toward Biden. Spent all night staring at that thing, and every time it moved, it was like hearing a twig snap in a horror movie.”

Noah: “Can we just take a moment to admit it is insane that an American president is just demanding that they stop counting votes while he’s ahead? This is such a textbook authoritarian move, which is impressive coming from a guy who has never read a textbook.”

Colbert: “There it is: a power grab by a terrified strongman in the dead of night. Classic. If there’s anything 2 a.m. is known for, it’s desperate moves by sad little men who are afraid to go home feeling like a loser.”

Corden: “Fraud on the American people, embarrassment to our country. This seems like a weird time for Trump to just start listing his administration’s accomplishments.”

Trump saying he will take the election results up to the Supreme Court

Most shows skewered this line from Trump’s Wednesday speech: “We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at 4 in the morning and add them to the list, okay?”

Colbert: “The president of the United States can’t ask for voting to stop. He’s only the president because of voting. Voting is America’s whole thing! That’s like Arby’s changing their slogan to ‘We must stop the meats.’ They really must, by the way. There are limits to even America’s meat needs. I beg you, Arby’s.”

Meyers: “You can’t just go to the Supreme Court and tell them to stop counting. That’s not a thing. Trump talks about it like he’s just going to walk down the street and knock on their door: ‘Hello, is Brett there? We’re drinking beers with Tobin and Squee.’ ”

Noah: “Look, nobody knows what the Supreme Court is going to decide if Trump ends up bringing this case to them. I mean, we hope they’ll be neutral and rule on the merits. But Trump’s also the person who has appointed so many of them. They might be like, ‘According to the Constitution, only the president gets to be president.’ ”

Trump’s tweet that Twitter flagged for disinformation

Corden: “Now, you know it’s serious when he is using ‘hereby.’ Guys, this is formal legal Twitter. Trump might be right — he really might. It states clearly in the Constitution, ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers.’ ”

Kimmel: “He’s claiming the votes in four states he didn’t win. You can’t claim the votes. This is the electoral college. It’s not baggage at an airport carousel.”

And, strangely, Matthew McConaughey

Fallon: “Today felt like waking up with a hangover and realizing you’re still at the bar. What a long and emotional and confusing ride this has been. This is like a Matthew McConaughey car commercial that won’t end.”

Colbert: “Trump’s campaign manager came out of the blue to announce, ‘We are declaring a victory in Pennsylvania.’ Bold! … I hope his announcement doesn’t overshadow me declaring myself People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. I’m coming for you, McConaughey.”

Read more:

Election night TV was high anxiety, flat comedy and Trump taking us to a new low. We can’t say we weren’t warned.

The day that never ended

The fantasy of repudiating Trumpism is dead