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Late night TV has been a staple in American culture for generations, but it wasn't until recently that the hosts became major voices in American politics. Countless hours of laughter and entertainment mixed with insightful political commentary has added to late night television's variety show format, and surprisingly make politics more understandable.
Making fun of Democrats and Republicans has been standard protocol on comedy shows for decades, but the idea of centering politics as the focal point of a program didn't come along in earnest until about a decade ago. The Daily Show's coverage of the last decade's elections and its criticism of the Bush administration during the war in Iraq was comedy gold. Even more incredible was that the show earned distinguished awards in journalism that were previously unheard of going to a broadcast whose end goal was to get a laugh, including two Peabody awards and multiple TCA Awards for Outstanding Achievement in News.
Programs like The Daily Show and Colbert Report turned the late night time slot into a destination for insight and perspective on the serious issues that pack our newsfeed all day long. Soon, other late night comedy platforms were catching on. When the absurdity of the 2008 presidential election grew to an historic level, Saturday Night Live rose to the occasion in an unforgettable way.
Audiences have come to expect more than a few pop-culture jokes from their late night TV, which may be why the announcement of Stephen Colbert taking over David Letterman's Late Show was met with such enthusiasm. The departure of Stewart from The Daily Show and the end of The Colbert Report had audiences worried they'd be without a trusted voice in an election year. Without skipping a beat, Colbert jumped right back into the political landscape on his very first episode of the Late Show.
Late night TV's early game changers may have moved on to new things, but the future remains bright for the time slot. The Daily Show's new host Trevor Noah has already made headlines as a competent and hilarious replacement for Stewart, as NBC's Late Night With Seth Meyers offers the sharp wit audiences came to know from the comedian's Weekend Update segment on SNL. John Oliver, another Daily Show accolade, has taken comedic journalism to new heights on his show Last Week Tonight on HBO.
Stewart once said, "If you watch the news and don't like it, then this is your counter program to the news." We're glad to have quite a few options now.