In a world dominated by Trump headlines and all-too regular reminders that our planet is on the brink of disaster, it’s important to find scraps of humor wherever we can.
Enter the late night shows.
Obviously a bit of pre-bed comedy isn’t necessarily going to solve all the ills of this world, but it can certainly act as a distraction from the ever-present gloom. It can also serve as a way of lightly unpacking the day’s news, and — at its best — draw attention to wider cultural issues.
From silly sketches and beat battles, to crossover eps and political teardowns, here are some of the most memorable late night moments of 2019…
1. Lilly Singh joining the world of late night.
YouTuber Lilly Singh exploded onto the late night scene in September, launching A Little Late with a sketch in which she trashes an NBC boardroom filled with white male executives.
2. Trevor Noah’s take on Scarlett Johansson and representation.
2019 may have been a great year for Scarlett Johansson movie-wise, but it wasn’t so great interview-wise. Back in July, the Avengers actor — who has previously caused backlash for certain roles she’s chosen — gave an interview where she said she “should be allowed to play any person.”
The interview drew controversy, inspired memes, and resulted in a very well-reasoned take-down from Daily Show host Trevor Noah.
3. Maisie Williams dropping a Game of Thrones “spoiler.”
No, Maisie Williams didn’t actually reveal a spoiler for Game of Thrones. But she did remind everyone just how ridiculously good an actor she is.
4. Seth Meyers and Rihanna going day drinking together.
Do they hold back? Not at all. Is the end result wonderful? Absolutely.
5. Céline Dion’s Carpool Karaoke episode.
We couldn’t have had a late night roundup without at least one Carpool Karaoke episode — and with its stunning vocals, shoe-based giveaways and one very powerful rendition of “Baby Shark”, Celine Dion’s segment more than fits the bill.
6. Stephen Colbert’s epic Lord of the Rings parody.
Stephen Colbert’s visit to New Zealand, which started with a cheerful airport pickup from none other than prime minister Jacinda Ardern, was full of memorable moments. But his Lord of the Rings parody, in which he plays Aragorn’s “slightly hotter twin brother” Darrylgorn, is hands down Oscar-worthy. (Peter Jackson’s cameo deserves a best supporting actor nod, too.)
7. Leslie Jones and Seth Meyers’ sweary Game of Thrones recaps.
Quite a few people didn’t enjoy the ending of Game of Thrones. But if they’d been watching it with Leslie Jones, they would have.
8. Stephen Colbert’s Veep crossover.
Stephen Colbert travelling between dimensions to warn the Veep characters that they’re predicting Trump? What’s not to love.
9. John Oliver taking Stephen Colbert on a “first date.”
Watching the late night hosts interacting with one another is always entertaining. But John Oliver’s “date” with Stephen Colbert — during which they share wine and discuss things like earworms and first concert memories — is 10 minutes of pure joy.
10. Aaron Paul recapping all of Breaking Bad in two minutes.
If you haven’t yet seen Breaking Bad, we’d definitely recommend you avoid the video above and go watch it immediately. If you have, though, then you’ll probably enjoy this recap from everybody’s favorite high-school-failure-turned-hero, Jesse Pinkman (aka Aaron Paul).
11. The incredible fake statue prank James Corden played on David Beckham.
Prank videos can sometimes be a bit hit or miss, but this one sails into the back of the metaphorical net just like one of Beckham’s trademark free kicks. Corden clearly put a lot of time and effort into planning it, but the payoff is well worth the build-up.
12. Millie Bobby Brown’s beat battle with Jimmy Fallon.
OK, so this one obviously isn’t quite as spontaneous as Jimmy Fallon would have us believe (it’s definitely been heavily rehearsed), but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. In a nutshell, the Stranger Things star and the Tonight Show host take turns singing random songs over the same beat. Sound simple? Maybe, but they really do cram a lot of songs into four minutes (and their vocals are awesome, too).
13. This talent-packed Democratic debate.
SNL always loves a celebrity cameo, but the above Democratic Debate parody — which stars Larry David, Maya Rudolph, Woody Harrelson and Will Ferrell, among others — really takes things to another level.
14. James Corden’s response to Bill Maher’s fat shaming remarks.
After Bill Maher argued that fat shaming “needs to make a comeback,” James Corden tore his argument down during an episode of The Late Late Show.
“Please hear me when I say this,” Corden says in the clip above, addressing Maher directly. “While you’re encouraging people to think about what goes into their mouths, just think a little harder about what comes out of yours.”
15. Pete Davidson’s comments on R Kelly.
Pete Davidson’s SNL appearances made several headlines in 2019, but his comments about R Kelly and the Catholic Church (“If you support the Catholic Church, isn’t that like the same thing as being an R Kelly fan?”) definitely caused quite the stir — including the request for an apology from the Catholic diocese.
16. David Harbour combining Joker with Sesame Street.
The dark grittiness of Joker contrasted with the cheery optimism of Sesame Street is already an entertaining concept, but David Harbour’s starey-eyed, gruff-voiced parody is the lid on the trashcan.
17. John Oliver going after Bob Murray for the second time.
John Oliver made the most of coal giant Bob Murray dropping his lawsuit against him by going after the former Murray Energy CEO once again — finishing with the most brutal musical number imaginable.
18. Lin Manuel Miranda’s incredibly impressive freestyle.
Yep, it turns out Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda — who is already an accomplished actor, singer, writer, and composer — can freestyle rap using randomly generated words. Almost seems unfair, doesn’t it?
19. The Game of Thrones hotline.
Game of Thrones may have finished, but a call centre where the actors answer random questions about the show would still definitely be ringing off the hook.
20. Ringo Starr, The Roots and Jimmy Fallon performing “Yellow Submarine” using classroom instruments.
With the bright colors, plinking instruments and vocals from an actual member of The Beatles, it’s pretty hard not to be cheered up by this one.
21. This celebrity-packed dodgeball tournament.
James Corden, Reggie Watts, Harry Styles, Benedict Cumberbatch, and John Bradley taking on Michelle Obama, Kate Hudson, Mila Kunis, Melissa McCarthy, Lena Waithe, and Allison Janney in an epic game of dodgeball. What else is there to say?
22. Paul Rudd once again pulling a decades-old prank on Conan O’Brien.
This one makes the list purely because it’s been going on for such a long time. Paul Rudd first pulled this prank, in which he shows O’Brien a clip from the 1988 movie Mac and Me instead of what he’s actually mean to be promoting, way back in 2004. Some jokes never get old.
23. Jon Stewart popping up on Colbert to put Mitch McConnell in his place.
After Jon Stewart called out Congress for its lack of action regarding the 9/11 first responders compensation fund, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the grave mistake of saying he didn’t know why the former Daily Show host was “all bent out of shape.”
Well, Stewart wasn’t about to let him get away with that — so he popped up from under Stephen Colbert’s desk to put McConnell firmly in his place.
24. Desus & Mero’s Green Book parody.
Green Book may have picked up the Best Picture Oscar, but the movie also drummed up criticism for the way it portrayed race relations. Desus & Mero‘s parody of the film does an excellent job of highlighting why.
25. Kristen Bell’s epic Disney song medley.
Kristen Bell. 17 Disney classics. Five glorious minutes.
Don’t fight the magic; just let that sweet, cartoon nostalgia wash over you.