'What are we willing to do to combat pure evil?' Late-night comedians grapple with mass murder in Las Vegas.
There's nothing funny about mass shootings, and late-night TV is sick of talking about it, too
Monday night was a somber one on late-night comedy TV, as it was in much of the U.S., as comedian-hosts tried to find words of comfort and outrage at the mass murder of at least 59 people and wounding of 527 more at an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday night. Police say one 64-year-old man, Stephen Paddock, caused all the casualties and injuries with a collection of high-powered automatic rifles from a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. It was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
"Jokes aren't appropriate to address the shock and the grief and the anger we all feel," Stephen Colbert said on The Late Show. "This afternoon, the president called this an 'act of pure evil,' and I think he's right. So what, then, are we willing to do to combat pure evil? The answer can't be nothing. It can't." The warm, bipartisan welcome Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) got when he returned to Congress last week after being shot at baseball practice gives some hope "that Congress might work together for the common good," Colbert said. "And the bar is so low right now that Congress can be heroes by doing literally anything."
Congress could pass universal background checks on gun purchases, bar mentally ill people from buying guns, ban assault weapons again, "or come up with a better answer," Colbert said. "Doing nothing is cowardice. Doing something will take courage," like people in Las Vegas showed on Sunday night, he added. "If we are facing pure evil, then by all means offer thoughts and prayers, but think about what you need to do, and then pray for the courage to do it."
Jimmy Kimmel, who grew up in Las Vegas, was near tears on Kimmel Live. The attack is "the kind of thing that makes you want to throw up or give up, it's too much to even process," he said, mourning "all these devastated families that now have to live with this pain forever because one person with a violent and insane voice in his head managed to stockpile a collection of high-powered rifles and use them to shoot people." People are saying there's nothing we can do about it, "but I disagree with that intensely, because of course there's something we can do about it," even if we won't, he said, noting that five people were also shot in Lawrence, Kansas, on Sunday night, and three died, but that was so normal it was barely news.
Kimmel proposed common-sense gun laws, but predicted that leaders of Congress won't act "because the NRA has their balls in a money clip." Those leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers "sent their thoughts and their prayers today," he said. "Which is good — they should be praying, the should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country." In fact, the House will vote this week on a law to legalize silencers, he said. "We have a major problem with gun violence in this country and I guess they don't care. And if I'm wrong on that, fine, do something about it, because I'm sick of it. I want this to be a comedy show — I hate talking about stuff like this."
Conan O'Brien said that while he's not qualified to talk about the attack, "there is something I can say, and that's that I've been doing this job for more than 24 years, and when I began in 1993, occasions like this were extremely rare. For me or any TV comedy host back then to come out and need to address a mass shooting spree was practically unheard of." When he got to work Monday, his head writer handed him his remarks from the last couple of big mass shootings. "How could there be a file of mass-shooting remarks for a late-night host?" O'Brien asked. "When did that become normal? When did this become a ritual? And what does it say about us that it has?"
"The sounds of those automatic weapons last night are grotesquely out of place in a civilized society," Conan said. "It makes no sense to me as a reasonable person and a father. ... Something needs to change, it really does."
On The Daily Show, Trevor Noah said that there have been 20 mass shootings in the U.S. since he moved to New York two years ago, and it's heartbreaking that "people are becoming more accustomed to this type of news." And the response is like clockwork, he said: "We're shocked, we're sad, thoughts and prayers, and then almost on cue, people are going to come out saying: 'Whatever you do, when speaking about the shootings, don't talk about guns.'" He imagined what would have happened if he'd used that logic as a kid when he got in trouble. "When is the time?" he asked, noting that if you can't talk about guns after a mass shooting, you'll never have the conversation in America, because mass shootings are so common.
Noah pointed to some things Americans do talk about right away: air safety after plane crashes, infrastructure after bridges collapse. "I've never been to a country where people are as afraid to speak about guns," he said. "Every time there's a shooting, you've got to look at something else," Islam or black-on-black crime, mentally ill people, or white nationalists. This time it's hotels, he said, playing some clips. "So, just to keep track of the argument: mass shooting, mass shooting, mass shooting, mass shooting, mass shooting, mass shooting, we have to take care of this hotel check-in issue." Noah also noted the upcoming House vote on deregulating silencers. "So to the people of Las Vegas, I can't give you thoughts and prayers," he said. "I can only say that I'm sorry, I'm sorry that we live in a world where there are people who will put a gun before your lives."
James Corden, the other nightly late-night host from another country, was similarly baffled at the escalating levels of gun violence in America. "Here's another statistic: 11,660 people have died from gun violence in the last 275 days in this country," he said on The Late Late Show. "Now, I come from a place where we don't have shootings at this frequency so it's hard for me to fathom, but it should be hard for everyone to fathom. Gun violence shouldn't be a staple of American life. Some say it's too early to talk about gun control. For those victims last night, it's far too late." Americans "can't be surprised that gun crime will always occur where there is such wide availability of guns," he said. That said, the kind and heroic actions of the first responders, concert-goers, and Las Vegas residents "will be far greater examples of true human nature than that shooter on the 32nd floor."
"It always seems like the worst displays of humanity in this country are immediately followed by the best," Seth Meyers said on Late Night. "And then, sadly, that is followed by no action at all, and then it repeats itself." He conceded that nothing he said will change anything, but he asked Congress to be honest with Americans and "admit that your plan is to never talk about it and never take any action."
On The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon outsourced the catharsis to Miley Cyrus and Adam Sandler, who peformed Dido's "No Freedom." "In the face of tragedy and acts of terror, we need to remember that good still exists in this world," Fallon explained. "We're here to entertain you tonight, and that's what we're going to do."