Late Night Comedy: Who Reigns Supreme?

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Late night talk show hosts develop cult-like followings and their shows are often juxtaposed and compared with scrutiny. The talk show is an art form that only few can master: hosts must be charismatic and quick on their feet. To host a successful show, the comic needs to command the stage and strike a perfect balance between funny and informative. Talk show hosts are actors and stand-up comics that make viewers feel more like personal friends. These hosts are often the ones who give us a laugh and a silver lining if we’ve had a particularly rough day, and they send us to sleep with a smile. Perhaps this is why there is so much debate about which host is the best.

Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, and Conan O’Brien are just a handful of hosts that fill the current late night spots, Their shows are viewed by millions of Americans each weeknight, but which host reigns supreme? Does America have a favorite?

In an ongoing poll on, votes for “The Best Current Late Night Shows” are listed as follows: “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” is in the lead, followed by “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”, then “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”, with “Conan” bringing up the rear.

Though these shows are all late night comedy, each has its own unique spin and special segments that draw in viewers. Perhaps the most notable segments are Jimmy Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets” and Stephen Colbert’s “Werd.” Mean Tweets is a segment in which celebrities read out crude and often harsh twitter posts written about themselves. You probably remember The Oscars Edition that featured tweets read by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The “Werd” segment on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert showcases the comedian’s tongue in cheek style and his witty wordplay.

But if we are using actual network ratings to judge who reigns supreme in late night television, the winner would change day by day. Each week, ratings fluctuate and different shows are at the top.

According to TV by the Numbers, views of all late night shows were down last week. Though ratings were down, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers still seemed to be the front runners. ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” dipped, while CBS’ “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” fell in ratings as well. In cable, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” held steady, while “Conan” fell once again.

Ratings change quickly and there are a lot of factors to consider when using them to judge the popularity of a show. It is most important to realize that TV ratings do not take factor in Netflix, DVR, On Demand, or online viewers. According to TV by the Numbers, this is because “the purpose of the Nielsen ratings is to measure in order to broker the sale of TV advertising, not to come up with some type of ‘total popularity’ metric”. Since most young viewers choose to watch these shows from their laptops rather than their TV screens, you can see how ratings quickly become obsolete when trying to measure a show’s popularity.

That being said, you are probably wondering which show comes in on top with online views. “Late-night has really been creeping up: The amount of time spent watching late-night clips on YouTube is nearly double what it was last year,” Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s head of culture and trends told NBC News. Unfortunately, even online metrics are difficult to decipher and must be taken with a grain of salt since there are so many different ways to measure the data. That being said, here’s the numbers: According to the second annual study of late-night streaming viewership by the analytics firm Jumpshot, Stephen Colbert had the largest share of the online video views in 2016, beating out Jimmy Fallon, who fell to third place behind The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah.

If the late night talk show host battle is a popularity contest measured by viewers, it seems nearly impossible to figure the winner. That’s why we’re convinced that “the best” is in the eyes of the beholder. Each host is unique, but most importantly each host brings us a little laughter between the late night block of 11pm-2am. Whether you watch on your TV screen or online, we hope you tune in and find your favorite.

Lauren lives in OB with her French bulldog, Elvis Presley. She loves laughter and the great outdoors. You can contact her at [email protected].

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