All this week, Uproxx‘s Late Night Week will take a look at late-night past, present, and future, from talk shows to late-night comedy, and beyond. Here’s an appreciation of a fake talk show that feels entirely real.
There’s something comforting about late-night television (and I don’t mean that late-night television). It’s the last thing you see before falling asleep at night, and, if a sketch goes viral, the first clip you see plastered all over social media the next morning. But, ironically, late night is at its best when a host or guest is taken out of their comfort zone. Think Drew Barrymore flashing David Letterman on his birthday, or Jay Leno asking Hugh Grant “what the hell were you thinking?” after he was caught soliciting a prostitute, or Norm MacDonald’s so-bad-it’s-great “moth” joke. Or Norm MacDonald demoralizing poor Chairman of the Board star Courtney Thorne-Smith in front of millions. Or Norm MacDonald… anything with Norm, really.
These are the moments where we forget we’re watching a glorified commercial — does John Lithgow want to read “Kids Campfire” stories? Probably not. But he has a show to promote, and it beats sitting through an endless press junket. It’s no wonder that the best current late-night talk shows, like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Late Night with Seth Meyers (which often gets The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon‘s scraps), are the ones thatrely least on big-name talent.
It’s rare to find a late-night show that can do both, take viewers out of their comfort zone, and treat celebrities, who don’t always get to mention the projects they’re working on, as less interesting than absurdist “regular” people. There’s no fawning on Comedy Bang! Bang! — only jokes, and that’s why it’s one of TV’s best talk shows, even if it barely counts.
The IFC series, based on Scott Aukerman’s all-joking-a-salad podcast of the same name, has produced five seasons of (to use Aukerman’s favorite word) content. But after 100-plus episodes, CBB will wrap up this Friday with an episode featuring former-bandleader Reggie Watts and mainstays Adam Scott, Paul F. Tompkins, and Nick Kroll. “A lot of shows go really big for their final episodes and they try to bowl you over with guest stars,” Aukerman told Entertainment Tonight. “I decided to go really small and do more of a thematic ending. I really wanted to make it one of the funnier episodes we’ve ever done.” That’s saying something, because CBB has produced some incredibly funny episodes, from the topsy-turvy “Jake Johnson Wears a Light Blue Button-Up Shirt and Brown Shoes” to every time Jason Mantzoukas and Andy Daly have dropped by.
CBB‘s humor is specific yet silly. Take the Bookkeeper from the 2014 Halloween episode “Wayne Coyne Wears a Halloween Costume,” for instance — it’s funny if you get the Tales from the Crypt reference, but it still works if you haven’t, because it’s amusing to imagine this wordplay-loving skeleton being related to the Zookeeper (cue the photo of Kevin James). CBB is also lovingly ironic. When David Letterman retired as host of Late Show, Aukerman described him as “a guy who was being sarcastic about everything and showing you that these show-business traditions were bullsh*t, and that everything I had grown up with and been shown on television was stupid.” He continued, “I embraced my personality as a guy who was super sarcastic about everything and started acting like Letterman all the time. I would sarcastically embrace the cheesiness of things and treat everything like it was a big joke.” Aukerman cops to stealing Letterman’s style, which shows on CBB, which acknowledges pop culture traditions while also mocking them.