Jimmy Kimmel won the Matt Lauer late night joke war

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment

It takes a lot to make The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon offer timely jokes about news events — he’d rather be playing games in a frantic attempt to keep his show’s sinking ratings afloat — but he couldn’t avoid the controversy at his own network over the firing of Today show host Matt Lauer due to sexual harassment claims. On his Wednesday night show, Fallon played off a familiar Today show stunt, saying, “Where in the world is Matt Lauer? Maybe he’s having a beer with Charlie Rose.” Over on CBS, Stephen Colbert was both blunt and sharp: “Lauer once gave a colleague a sex toy as a present. It included an explicit note about how he wanted to use it on her. It’s bad enough he gave her a sex toy, but he also gave her instructions? He found a way to mansplain sexual harassment. ‘You’re doing that wrong, let me get in there.’”

But the strongest monologue was delivered by Jimmy Kimmel, in the sense that it was the funniest, and the one that also incorporated the then-late-breaking news about public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion creator Garrison Keillor’s own harassment scandal. “What happens with Matt Lauer now? Does he have to sit down and do an emotional interview with himself?” Kimmel wondered. He worked in a shocking clip of Kathie Lee Gifford slapping Hoda Kotb’s bottom on a feature they call “Spanky Tuesday.” (Honest to God, I didn’t know that was a thing — thanks for the public service, Jimmy.) Kimmel also joked that Keillor was “apparently asking women to fondle his tote bag.” Not much of a joke to you, but a real thigh-slapper to anyone who’s ever donated to a public-radio fund-drive. So, I hereby decree: Jimmy Kimmel won Wednesday’s late night harassment joke war.

P.S. In a very strangely unfortunate development, Fallon’s late night partner Seth Meyers made no mention of Lauer, or, for that matter, President Trump’s insane tweeting of questionable anti-Muslim videos, because he had pre-taped Wednesday’s show on Tuesday. Why? Meyers explained that he had pre-taped the show on Tuesday because there were too many people blocking NBC outside for its annual Christmas tree lighting. This is weird since Fallon tapes his show in the same building, and he cranked out a new one. Plus, Meyers’s guest was John Oliver. John Oliver! Whose own show on HBO has wrapped up its season, depriving him of a venue for current events, and one that Meyers’s Late Night would have offered him. All the interesting things he might have said about Trump’s tweets or Lauer — a big missed opportunity.

Jimmy Kimmel Live airs weeknights at 11:35 p.m. on ABC. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon airs weeknights at 11:35 p.m. on NBC. The Late Show With Stephen Colbert airs weeknights at 11:35 p.m. on CBS. Late Night With Seth Meyers airs weeknights at 12:35 a.m. on NBC.

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