Opinion

Late-night TV is obsessed with parenting. Yay?

It's kind of refreshing that Fallon, Kimmel, et al care enough about raising their kids that they constantly bring it up at work

The current crop of network late-night TV comedy hosts has something particular, even peculiar, in common. No, it's not that they are all white males, or even that a surprising number of them are Catholic. It's this seemingly unremarkable fact: All but one of them — Seth Meyers — has at least one young child.

On NBC, Jimmy Fallon, 40, just had his second daughter last year. Same with Jimmy Kimmel, 47, over at ABC, who had a third child last July. The newest member of the late-night tribe, James Corden, 36, has a 4-year-old son and infant daughter. Even the elder statesman of the bunch, 68-year-old David Letterman, has one 11-year-old son.

I could have learned all that from Wikipedia, but I didn't have to: They all bring up their children on their late-night TV shows. This is a departure: Jay Leno has no kids, but Johnny Carson had three sons, Jack Paar had a daughter, and Steve Allen had four children, and while they occasionally mentioned their progeny on-air — Carson tragically, after his grown son Ricky died in an auto accident — as far as I can tell, they didn't discuss "parenting" much.

That's probably in part because "parenting" didn't hold the same place in the public sphere in the 1980s and earlier as it does today, due perhaps to an explosion of parenting blogs and a general willingness to share (or overshare) details about your life with the world. Maybe the fake intimacy of reality TV has also seeped into the broader television culture — MTV's The Real World, remember, started beaming the confessional into our living rooms 23 years ago.

Whatever the reason, Fallon, Kimmel, and Letterman — each network's marquee night-night star — have no qualms about discussing the joys and travails of parenting, and no hesitation asking parenting questions of their guests, a large number of whom are also rearing young children.

And the celebrities, for the most part, are happy to talk about their children and how they are raising them. Some, like Ryan Reynolds, won't go there, refusing to even disclose the name of his infant daughter with wife Blake Lively. But more typical are these Letterman interviews on the sex talk, on different nights, from husband and wife Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker:

There's a lot of sharing there. And there's plenty more where that came from.

Care to know Bill Murray's tips on fighting gas in your baby, or how he coached his sons in basketball? Kimmel has you covered. David Duchovny's advice for teaching your kids to fail? Letterman. How about Chris Rock explaining why two kids are better than one on Fallon? Or Mila Kunis talking to Kimmel about the angst of leaving your 4-month-old child at home for the first time? Or Ben Affleck telling Fallon how daughters are just smarter than sons? Kimmel even sought out parenting advice from young children (Parts 1, 2, and 3).

It's easy to dismiss this parenting talk as a tad precious, or maybe even a bit exploitative, a cheap way to cast a warm, kindly glow on celebrities who make ungodly amounts of money and have nothing else in common with you other than their common humanity. Also, do we have so few Hollywood dynasties that we need to start promoting celebrity children from birth?

And then, who is the intended audience for this mommy and daddy talk? Do new parents really stay up to watch late-night TV? (Unless you're despicably lucky, sleep is too precious for that.) People without kids — so, most millennials — don't care at all about the tempered joy of a baby's first steps or the tortured intricacies of a toddler's sleeping and bowel habits.

So count me among the confounded and conflicted. And yet....

It's kind of refreshing having dads care enough about raising their kids that they bring it up at work.

There have been comedic TV shows about fathers practically since TV was invented — Father Knows Best and My 3 Sons to The Cosby Show to Everybody Loves Raymond and Louie, for example — but it's different having late-night comedians talk about their own children and seeking advice from other public figures. ("I want to center on the 12-year-old," Letterman told Seinfeld last Friday, after Seinfeld listed the ages of his three kids. "Good. Why?" Seinfeld asked. Letterman: "I have an 11-year-old.")

A handful of white male comedians won't revolutionize child-rearing or make distant fathers more attentive to their children, but there's certainly no harm in it — and there may even be some normalizing benefit to this weird phenomenon. Raising children is hard work with too many variables for any book to distill it into an instruction manual. If Fallon and Kimmel are talking about it, maybe it will be less strange for fathers to ask advice or share tips outside of TV land.

If nothing else, there's comfort in knowing that when it comes to the sex talk, you're not the only dad who's going to screw it up. For that alone, as Letterman might say, God bless 'em.

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