August 31, 2023 - 7:00pm

On Wednesday, the world was introduced to Spotify’s latest high-profile podcast, Strike Force Five — a rogue’s gallery of late-night TV hosts shooting around a Zoom roundtable. The line-up included Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers and John Oliver — five longtime show business troupers endeavouring to channel their routine network shticks into this new audio medium. 

The event was ostensibly historic, a collective sigh of late-nighters driven to podcasting by the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike. But if the intent was to demonstrate their versatility and camaraderie amid labour unrest over important issues such as the use of AI in writing, the effort faltered in execution. Strike Force Five serves as a glaring reminder of late-night TV’s endemic issues: stale humour, a lack of fresh perspectives, and a hermetic homogeneity that has plagued mainstream US comedy since the election of Donald Trump in 2016 but went into overdrive during the pandemic.

One would expect that in an era punctuated by cultural shifts, late-night hosts would evolve their comedic timbre. Instead, we are offered the same flavour, episode after episode, host after host, forming a sort of unanimous consensus on what comedy should be post-Trump and, more strikingly, post-Covid. The hosts even went so far as to joke about their overwhelming whiteness, a critique often lobbed at the late-night circuit. Yes, they are indeed mediocre white men, but not for the reasons they think (Kimmel added that people are disappointed to find out he isn’t Jewish, merely white).

If there was a single redeeming moment in the debut podcast, it came courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel, who announced his intention to retire from late-night TV, only to claim he decided to stay on because the strike reminded him how much he liked to work. Given the declining quality of his show — it started bad and never got much better, a far cry from his heyday as the sardonic second banana on Win Ben Stein’s Money — and his contribution to the homogeneity of late-night culture, his stepping back may well be a change for the better. Ironically, Kimmel’s reasons for initially wanting to leave the stale late-night world amounted to the most authentic part of an otherwise contrived effort.

Strike Force Five might serve a philanthropic purpose with its proceeds supporting the striking writers. However, it fails to transcend its flaws or offer anything revolutionary. The collective narrative underlines a more significant problem: the redundancy and monotony of late-night TV comedy, as well as the cultural uniformity of its leading lights. So now it may be time to turn the lights off on this era of late-night TV, opening the stage for fresh, diverse voices to redefine comedy in the current age. For yesterday’s men of Strike Force Five, I can think of few products more deserving of a boycott. 

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work