Jimmy Kimmel became emotional when he acknowledged last Friday’s tragedy in Connecticut right at the outset of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Monday night.
David Letterman also spoke about the terrible events at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Monday’s “Late Show” on CBS.
For Kimmel and Letterman, it was their first opportunity to react to the Sandy Hook tragedy, in which an apparently mentally ill 20-year-old man murdered 20 children and seven adults, including his own mother.
They had that opportunity because their shows went on as scheduled that evening. But the “Kimmel” show is traditionally dark on Friday nights, and Letterman usually tapes his Friday shows on Thursday nights (after he tapes the Thursday show).
“I’m glad that you came out,” Kimmel said to his studio audience before launching into his opening monologue. “I hope that we can laugh a bit tonight after a horrible weekend, and I’m sorry … I have trouble controlling my emotions,” he said, his voice breaking.
“But it feels weird to do a show with so much sadness. Sometimes, though, that’s what needs to happen so … I think the President said what needed to be said last night on television. I think he spoke beautifully. I just want the people in Connecticut to know that we don’t take what you’re going through lightly, and we are thinking about you here a lot, all of us, even though we are at a talk show. So my job tonight is to give you a little break from being sad and I will try my best to do that, alright? So … do you want to see some Christmas lights shaped like a penis?”
For all of the late-night shows and their comedy-oriented hosts, national tragedies such as the one in Connecticut last week present them with a dilemma. “The show must go on” is, of course, one of the foundational “rules” of show business. It’s related to the timeworn image of the clown who feels a responsibility to keep smiling — and entertaining — though, inwardly, his heart is broken. And in the case of the late-night TV shows, the hosts are well-aware that their audiences are grieving. But the late-night hosts press on, in the belief that at least some members of their audience are looking to them to provide them with some relief from the sad news of the day.
The question is: How do you acknowledge the tragedy, and then move on to comedy? Jimmy Kimmel’s method was to deal with the tragedy up front, and then move on — rather abruptly in his case — to the comedy part of the show. Leno and Fallon adopted the same strategy Friday night on their respective shows.
“I want to thank you all for joining us tonight,” said Leno, who by now is an old hand at dealing with national tragedies on “The Tonight Show.”
“Once again, it breaks my heart to have to do a show under these circumstances,” he said. “Unfortunately, as you know, we had another tragedy in our country today and I want to express my sympathy and my sadness to all the families affected by this very violent act. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and yours. We gave a lot of thought to cancelling the show tonight, but in the end we decided to do one just in hopes of maybe offering you a brief distraction and maybe put a smile on your face before you go to bed.
“So with that in mind … You know whose birthday [it is today]? Jets coach Rex Ryan — 50 years-old today. If you’d like to send him a gift – he could use a quarterback!”
For his part, David Letterman bypassed the Connecticut tragedy in his opening monologue Monday night, but, as he often does, he commented on the subject in his second segment, the one that came after he introduced Paul Shaffer and then Dave took his seat behind his “Late Show” desk. In his remarks, Dave voiced his sympathy for all the parents of Sandy Hook school students who dropped off their kids at school and then, a short time later, heard the news of the attack and were then forced to wonder if their children were dead or alive.
Last Friday, Jimmy Fallon seemed to adopt a strategy that involved taping his “Late Night” show as normal, and then tacking on a comment about the Sandy Hook tragedy that was taped separately and then aired at the beginning at the show.
“Tonight’s show was taped after the terrible events that happened today in Newtown, Conn.,” said Fallon, who, like the others, noted his responsibility for making his audience laugh, even at times when that is difficult to do. “It’s our job to make you laugh every night. Some nights, it’s harder than others. And this is one of those nights. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this senseless tragedy.”