Just hours earlier, for about nine minutes, anyone tuned into a major TV network saw the same thing: A grim President Trump in the Oval Office sitting behind the Resolute desk. In his first prime-time televised address, described by The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Felicia Sonmez as “a forceful and fact-challenged” plea, the president traded his usual public-speaking antics in favor of stoically reading off a teleprompter to warn about a “growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border and to champion his border wall as the only solution.
“It was historic,” Kimmel said of the address. “Rarely does the president of the United States interrupt prime-time television to warn us about a completely made-up thing.”
Though many had wondered if the president would use his prime-time slot to rattle the country by declaring a national emergency to begin construction for his wall, in reality the contents of the address, and the rebuttal from Democratic leaders, was nothing out of the ordinary. Trump provided little new information, opting to portray what The Post’s Fact Checker blog found to be “a misleading and bleak picture of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.” Predictably, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded by slinging familiar insults at the president, looking, as many pointed out, like disappointed parents as they accused Trump of spreading “misinformation” and governing by “temper tantrum.”
But late-night hosts — some of Trump’s most vocal critics — still jumped at the opportunity to ridicule the president, even though a number of their shows had finished taping before the speech even aired.
“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” kicked off with a “Bird Box”-themed cold open, spoofing the popular Netflix thriller in which civilization is plagued by a mysterious force that makes people harm themselves when they look at it. But in Colbert’s version, the people need blindfolds for protection from a speech that “will be so insane, if you watch it, you will want to hurt yourself.”
After thanking his “warm-up act, Donald Trump, America’s favorite funny man,” Colbert quipped, “By the time of this broadcast, we’re either in a brand new state of emergency or the same one we’ve been in since November of 2016."
Noting that his show was taping at around 5:30 p.m. Eastern time, Colbert said he didn’t know what his actual reaction to the speech would be, but assured his audience that he was going to “cover all my bases.” He then proceeded to lay out two scenarios of how the speech could go.
“Congratulations Mr. President, glad you interrupted our lives so you could read your tweets out loud,” he said, which was arguably not a far cry from what really happened.
His second option, however, wasn’t as realistic.
“My God, he just confessed to everything,” Colbert said with mock horror, “Russia, obstruction, his dad shot Warren G. Harding. I can’t believe he handed the presidency over to Michelle Obama and then got dragged into the back of a paddy wagon screaming, ‘I’m the real Christmas queen.' ”
Later, Colbert theorized that the speech “might just be one constant lie” because the New York Times reported that Trump had insisted he would be writing his own remarks.
“I believe him,” the host continued, “because CBS has obtained an advance copy of the speech.”
A list of three talking points handwritten in what looked like crayon appeared on the screen. It read “1. Mexicans BAD. 2. WALL GOOD. 3. Lie!” and included a childish drawing of a man in a colorful poncho and sombrero.
To make up for the speech’s inconvenient timing, Colbert also took to Twitter after it aired to poke fun at Trump, Pelosi and Schumer.
On Comedy Central, Trevor Noah took his predictions about the speech beyond Trump’s remarks. After guessing the president would say the wall is needed “because there are Guatemalan drug-dealing Mexican Muslim terrorists trying to sneak into America to dance on rooftops with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” the “Daily Show” host shifted his focus to Trump’s appearance.
“I would also like to predict the color of spray tan that the president will choose to wear for the occasion,” Noah said, pausing to pull out a color chart of what appeared to be a range of four skin tones.
“Because it’s winter, he doesn’t want to go too dark,” Noah said. “But because it’s a formal event, he’ll need something with color ... so I’m going to go with ‘Old Traffic Cone.’ "
On Tuesday afternoon, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” shared a poll on Twitter asking people to vote for what color they thought the president would go with. While a majority voted for “Mango Salsa,” the most saturated option of the four presented, the show announced Tuesday night that Trump most closely matched Noah’s guess.
The show’s Twitter account was also quite active while Trump was speaking.
It was equally busy over at the official Twitter account of “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” which provided biting commentary in real time.
On ABC, Kimmel told his audience not to worry about the president being given “a forum to lie to us on television.” The networks, he said, had decided they would run a disclaimer before the speech, which did not actually happen.
“The following presidential address is a work of fiction,” a man’s voice narrated as a fake disclaimer was shown on screen. “All personalities, incidents, events, locations and facts were pulled directly from the president’s a--. Any resemblance to reality is entirely coincidental.”
Kimmel went on to suggest that the president may be taking the wrong approach to getting people “panicked enough to waste $5 billion” on a border wall.
“Say there is an army of chupacabras crawling in through Tijuana,” he advised, referencing a fantastical predator. “Tell everyone they’ve got red eyes, they’ve got sharp claws. If we don’t stop them they’re going to eat our children and our Instagrams. That’s how you get people fired up.”
He continued: “If I hear that, I’ll help build the wall myself.”
While late-night hosts may have largely fixated on Trump, keen social media users were quick to turn Pelosi and Schumer into the Internet’s newest meme.