Don’t even think of asking Stephen Colbert or John Oliver if they’re secretly happy about the election results. The Daily Show alums will have you know they’re not having any fun, either.
During a fundraiser for the Montclair Film Festival on Saturday, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Colbert and Oliver sat down for a discussion appropriately titled, “Wow, That Was Weird.” The hosts of The Late Show and Last Week Tonight, respectively, grappled with the results of the presidential election and their role in both reacting to and shaping the news.
During the nearly two-hour discussion — reported by The Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly — Oliver said that the Brits “could see this coming, because it felt the same” as the weeks leading up to the Brexit vote. “The rhetoric running up to Brexit was similar. There was definitely a comparable lack of trust in the media, and a selective sense of what a ‘fact’ was.”
At one point, Colbert took issue with the term “fake news,” which spread wildly on social media throughout the campaign, deliberately misleading voters. “What we did was fake news,” he said, referring to the “newscasts” of the The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. “We got on TV and said this is all fake, and we’re gonna make fun of the news. That was fake news. Calling [those social media-shared stories] ‘fake news’ upsets me, because [that] is just lying.”
Oliver pointed to the challenge for his show’s upcoming fourth season (the third ended last week): It’s hard to make light of something that has no substance to begin with. “When covering a campaign,” he said, “you try and take things of substance and put some sugar on it to make it palatable. But there was so little of substance this whole campaign — it was just a diabetes-inducing level of sugar, that your job kinda flips on its head. You’re just trying to find a way to inject substance into sugar. We spent so much time thinking about framing devices, trying to figure out how to make something out of nothing.”
Colbert recalled his Showtime election night special, which was conceived as a live celebration of what would surely be the nation’s first female president and quickly devolved into a wake for American democracy. He called it “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” adding, “My audience was sobbing openly. Who can make jokes to a sobbing audience?”
Oliver also warned against getting too comfortable with the new reality, noting that for some people, that just won’t be possible. “I think the danger of ‘live your lives, the sun comes out tomorrow’ is that that’s true for some people, and so it’s very easy to forget that it’s very much not for others,” he said.
Colbert left things on a somewhat dark note, warning the media not to give Trump “an inch”: “He owes the checks and balances of Washington nothing, because they tried to stop him and they couldn’t. And he’s a vindictive person. So, it’s all going to be fine. Merry Christmas.”