Speed Reads

Late Night Tackles coronavirus

Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Seth Meyers pan Trump's big coronavirus speech to empty theaters

The Tonight Show, The Late Show, and Late Night will suspend production for two weeks due to the spreading coronavirus pandemic, NBC and CBS announced Thursday evening. All the national late-night shows were planning to start taping without a studio audience on Monday, but Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers learned Thursday that their Thursday shows were going to be audience-less, too. Their shows went on, loosely.

"We're just kind of winging it — this is rehearsal right now," Colbert said to his mostly empty theater. He noted that "because of the coronavirus, all of Broadway was shutting down tonight," too, and yelled at the coronavirus for infecting Tom Hanks, in "a bummer of a sequel to Catch Me if You Can."

"Last night, Donald Trump pre-empted all programming to address a worried nation — and remind them, he's the thing they should really worry about," Colbert said. Wall Street immediately "freaked out" about Trump's phantom trade ban, but "Trump's body language" must've added to the panic. "He had a rakish flair that could only be described as stark terror," he pantomimed, and "it's not very reassuring when the guy telling us to stay calm about a respiratory virus loses his breath in the middle of a two-syllable word."

"Like you, I'm watching the news and I'm just as confused and freaked out as you are — I know that speech last night didn't help," Fallon told the empty theater, reading his monologue from index cards as The Roots kept things pleasantly madcap. Trump's Oval Office address "was a nice change from his usual speeches, right next to a helicopter," Fallon joked. But "the last time Trump spoke from the Oval Office it was about his plans to build his border wall — which means in two years, the coronavirus should be about 10 percent taken care of."

"We had written a Closer Look last night" and it's still relevant, explained Seth Meyers, dressed in shirtsleeves, so they added it to Thursday's last-minute rerun. He called America's current mood "very surreal and weird," with the media and public health experts struggling "to convey the severity of what's happening without sounding hysterical" and Trump addressing the nation minutes after Sarah Palin rapped to Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" dressed in a bear costume. Trump's speech should have focused on "massively ramping up testing, surging the capacity of our health care system, and taking care of the millions of vulnerable Americans who are about to face personal and economic hardships because of this pandemic," Meyers said. Instead, he's moving ahead with his "truly sadistic plan" to kick 700,000 Americans off food stamps.

The Daily Show's Trevor Noah, going audience-less Monday, sang a wistful farewell song for Thursday's crowd. Peter Weber