A Timeline of the Best Late-Night Bits of the 2016 Election

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Politics is always fertile ground for late-night comedy shows, but presidential election years are the true gold mines. Primaries, conventions, debates, and an endless parade of scandals (whether valid or trumped up) give hosts and writing staffs an embarrassment of riches to work with: Every headline is a new monologue joke, every gaffe a potential Saturday Night Live sketch. And this year, a jaw-dropping circus fire of an election has serendipitously happened in the same year that a crop of new shows and hosts have emerged—shows and hosts who have gladly put the proceedings in their crosshairs. There have been so many savage acts of satire during the last few months, in fact, that you might have missed some. If so, do enjoy a rough timeline of the biggest comedy moments from a campaign year that, as Jon Oliver pointed out, has managed to continually redefine the very concept of “rock bottom.”

February 28

Last Week Tonight Makes Donald Drumpf Again

It seems like forever ago, but the presidential campaign cycle started in the spring of 2015. And while many late-night shows immediately got into the fray, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight took a stand, refusing to discuss the election until 2016. When it became clear Donald Trump was the presumptive Republican nominee, Last Week devoted nearly 22 minutes to skewering him and digging up the family’s original surname, Drumpf. It was such a viral success that it became the most-watched piece of HBO content ever put online for free.

It seems like forever ago, but the presidential campaign cycle started in the spring of 2015. And while many late-night shows immediately got into the fray, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight took a stand, refusing to discuss the election until 2016. When it became clear Donald Trump was the presumptive Republican nominee, Last Week devoted nearly 22 minutes to skewering him and digging up the family’s original surname, Drumpf. It was such a viral success that it became the most-watched piece of HBO content ever put online for free.

March 13

Hillary Becomes Bernie on Saturday Night Live

NBC and Saturday Night Live are still in the red, thanks to allowing Donald Trump to host an episode while an active candidate last season. But since then, presidential wannabes of all parties have provided SNL no shortage of comedy fodder, and it’s one of the few shows that has found a way to make fun of Hillary Clinton’s own flaws as a candidate. Most of that is due to having an ace like Kate McKinnon playing the part, and this ad parody focusing on millennials cut to the heart of the Democratic primary struggle between Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

NBC and Saturday Night Live are still in the red, thanks to allowing Donald Trump to host an episode while an active candidate last season. But since then, presidential wannabes of all parties have provided SNL no shortage of comedy fodder, and it’s one of the few shows that has found a way to make fun of Hillary Clinton’s own flaws as a candidate. Most of that is due to having an ace like Kate McKinnon playing the part, and this ad parody focusing on millennials cut to the heart of the Democratic primary struggle between Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

March 24

Trump vs. Bernie on @midnight

In what turned out to be a prescient bit of contrived comedy, @midnight staged a debate between Bernie Sanders (James Adomian) and Donald Trump (Anthony Atamanuik). It was a long-form sketch show from veteran UCB performers that spilled onto TV, later becoming a Fusion special. They may not have the recognition factor of Larry David and Alec Baldwin, but Adomian and Atamanuik ended up producing some of the best dueling-impersonations bits of the entire election.

In what turned out to be a prescient bit of contrived comedy, @midnight staged a debate between Bernie Sanders (James Adomian) and Donald Trump (Anthony Atamanuik). It was a long-form sketch show from veteran UCB performers that spilled onto TV, later becoming a Fusion special. They may not have the recognition factor of Larry David and Alec Baldwin, but Adomian and Atamanuik ended up producing some of the best dueling-impersonations bits of the entire election.

July 21

Jon Stewart Takes Over Colbert’s Late Show

During the Republican National Convention, Stephen Colbert did a week of live Late Show episodes, with a few guest appearances by his old pal and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart. They did a pre-recorded sketch bringing Stewart out of the cabin he’s been hiding in, but the real fire started when Stewart took Colbert’s chair and launched into a rant that was classic Stewart-era Daily Show. It was a pointed takedown of Fox News’ departing leader Roger Ailes and Republican hypocrisy—and a reminder of what elections were like when Stewart had a show.

During the Republican National Convention, Stephen Colbert did a week of live Late Show episodes, with a few guest appearances by his old pal and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart. They did a pre-recorded sketch bringing Stewart out of the cabin he’s been hiding in, but the real fire started when Stewart took Colbert’s chair and launched into a rant that was classic Stewart-era Daily Show. It was a pointed takedown of Fox News’ departing leader Roger Ailes and Republican hypocrisy—and a reminder of what elections were like when Stewart had a show.

September 16

Fallon Tousles Trump on The Tonight Show

Not every one of these was going to be a highlight, and the dimmest segment in this bunch is definitely this Tonight Show interview between Jimmy Fallon and Donald Trump. Instead of taking a golden opportunity to confront the candidate about his policies, Fallon welcomed Trump and helped him seem self-effacing, even tousling his combover. Fallon has since gone on the defensive about the interview, but that hasn’t erased the memory of Fallon making Trump look like everyone’s BFF.

Not every one of these was going to be a highlight, and the dimmest segment in this bunch is definitely this Tonight Show interview between Jimmy Fallon and Donald Trump. Instead of taking a golden opportunity to confront the candidate about his policies, Fallon welcomed Trump and helped him seem self-effacing, even tousling his combover. Fallon has since gone on the defensive about the interview, but that hasn’t erased the memory of Fallon making Trump look like everyone’s BFF.

September 26

Seth Meyers Takes ‘A Closer Look’ at the First Debate

Throughout the election, Seth Meyers has regained the voice that made him such a dependably hilarious presence behind the Weekend Update desk on SNL. His “A Closer Look” segments on Late Night are a cross between explainer videos and his erstwhile “Really!?!” segments with Amy Poehler. They’re also the perfect antidote to whatever Jimmy Fallon thinks he’s doing in the prime late-night spot.

Throughout the election, Seth Meyers has regained the voice that made him such a dependably hilarious presence behind the Weekend Update desk on SNL. His “A Closer Look” segments on Late Night are a cross between explainer videos and his erstwhile “Really!?!” segments with Amy Poehler. They’re also the perfect antidote to whatever Jimmy Fallon thinks he’s doing in the prime late-night spot.

October 10

Samantha Bee on the Trump Access Hollywood Tape

There has been no late-night host channeling their combination of righteous anger and slack-jawed disbelief better than Samantha Bee. Just like John Oliver on HBO, Bee has proven that former Daily Show correspondents deserve their own gigs. She’s had several incredible segments this year, but none more impressive than her response to the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape. Her “literal Vagina Monologue” was aces—and one of the most popular clips since Full Frontal premiered in February.

There has been no late-night host channeling their combination of righteous anger and slack-jawed disbelief better than Samantha Bee. Just like John Oliver on HBO, Bee has proven that former Daily Show correspondents deserve their own gigs. She’s had several incredible segments this year, but none more impressive than her response to the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape. Her “literal Vagina Monologue” was aces—and one of the most popular clips since Full Frontal premiered in February.

October 23

SNL’s ‘Black Jeopardy’ Tackles the Race/Class Divide

When SNL returned for its 42nd season, it had already outsourced the role of Donald Trump to Alec Baldwin. He’s been magnificent, but he wasn’t in the best sketch of the campaign season. That would be “Black Jeopardy,” during which host Tom Hanks plays a Trump supporter alongside Leslie Jones and Sasheer Zamata. Instead of getting blown out of the water, “Doug” holds his own, highlighting how (some) Trump supporters and (some) black voters might have more in common than they assume. It’s one of the smartest SNL bits this year.

When SNL returned for its 42nd season, it had already outsourced the role of Donald Trump to Alec Baldwin. He’s been magnificent, but he wasn’t in the best sketch of the campaign season. That would be “Black Jeopardy,” during which host Tom Hanks plays a Trump supporter alongside Leslie Jones and Sasheer Zamata. Instead of getting blown out of the water, “Doug” holds his own, highlighting how (some) Trump supporters and (some) black voters might have more in common than they assume. It’s one of the smartest SNL bits this year.

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