Late night hosts avoiding chances to mock Biden despite ‘hard-earned reputation as a gaffe machine’: report

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Politico Magazine recently explained how late night comics have gone out of their way to avoid joking about President Biden even though he is a “rich vein of material for late night or sketch comics.”

In a column published Friday, the outlet mentioned that Biden has been able to escape the mockery that previous presidents on both sides of the political aisle have been subjected to, especially former President Trump.

It opened with the example of “The Late Show’s” Stephen Colbert emceeing a star-studded fundraiser for Biden’s 2024 campaign in New York. During the fundraiser, Colbert never really grilled the president but kept it to “ultra-friendly exchanges with Biden, Obama and Clinton as emcee of the largest Democratic fundraiser ever.”


The piece stated Colbert’s gig was “emblematic of a new era in late night comedy. It’s more proudly partisan. More one-sided. More cautious in its targets. And it’s generally soft on Biden.”

Politico pointed out the irony of this situation, noting how Biden is especially ripe among world leaders for jokes at his expense. “By any metric, Biden is a rich vein of material for late night or sketch comics. He arrived in the White House with a hard-earned reputation as a gaffe machine. The oldest president ever, he was first elected to the Senate during the era of eight-track tapes and rotary telephones.”

The piece continued, pointing out aspects of Biden that would be comedic fodder in a previous era, like the fact that he has “stumbled over his own words, mixed up the names of world leaders and countries and even physically stumbled on stage himself,” while in office.

After listing even more examples, the outlet observed, “For all his ripeness as a comic target, though, Biden has largely escaped the kind of pillorying that some of his predecessors got.” It mentioned how comedian Chevy Chase mocked President Gerald Ford’s stumbles, and how former President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinski “consumed late night” at the time. 

It then pivoted back to Colbert at the Biden fundraiser declaring, “I would like to point out that it is after 10:00 p.m. Sleepy Joe is still awake, while Donald Trump has spent the past week falling asleep in court every morning.”

According to the outlet, this reluctance to slam Biden is an example of a “sea change in comedy” that has happened in the Trump era. It has “carried over to Biden’s presidency, with late night hosts appearing to view themselves as bulwarks against Trump, careful not to let their humor be perceived as advancing his interests in any way.”


A recent Media Research Center study corroborated this bias against Trump and other conservative politicians among network late night comics.

The watchdog found that 81% of all political jokes told on major late night comedy shows in 2023 – including ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”, CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “The Late Late Show with James Corden” – targeted conservatives.

The column did mention that Biden does get an occasional ribbing, providing a joke from ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel, who recently quipped, “Biden’s physical took about three hours, one hour of examination, two for him to get his pants back on.”

However, it stated, “But even when the knives are out for the president, they’re often drawn in the context of comparing him to something far worse, as if any joke about him requires a Trump counterpoint.”

Trump still takes all the heat, with the column noting that the former president “is a flashing target for late night hosts and writers,” and rationalizing this as “the result of his narcissism and a set of singular traits and peccadilloes that stretch far beyond those of his recent predecessors.”

The report further described this Trump-era shift on the part of late-night hosts, noting it’s driven by their audiences. “They’d like their political enemies punished and their friends treated with a lighter touch,” it stated, adding, “Largely liberal late-night audiences don’t want to hear about Biden’s stumbles — in fact, much of the audience finds that criticism somewhat offensive. They want to hear about Trump’s foibles instead. The programming largely reflects that.”


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