At times it may have felt like late-night talk shows were completely dominated by political talk this year, from biting commentary by way of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.” However, quite a few shows did what they could to keep it light — and perhaps go viral for their takes on pop culture instead. Think: the three-way call between Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon, as well as Paul McCartney’s appearance on “Carpool Karaoke.” With such varied bits, late-night provided a lot of distractions for the craziness of daily life.
Here, Variety breaks down the most memorable moments in late-night for 2018:
TBS announced in May that O’Brien’s hour-long late-night show would be reduced to 30 minutes in January and signal the departure of O’Brien’s long-time band, Jimmy Vivino & The Basic Cable Band. In the last regular episode before transitioning to the new format, the comedian gave the group a pitch-perfect send-off that made the audience teary-eyed with nostalgia, but hopeful about the show’s future. “These remarkable musicians have given their talent, energy, enthusiasm, and incredible showmanship for over 4,000 hours,” he reminisced. “These guys played at my wedding, which was in Seattle in January and no one goes to Seattle in January.”
“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”
This year Noah sounded off on everything from Trump’s xenophobia, to Brett Kavanaugh, to France. But the most special moment from the show this year might’ve been his visit with his grandmother during an “MTV Cribs”-style tour of her home in South Africa. To witness their illuminating and intimate conversation about his youth, Nelson Mandela, and life under apartheid was a true privilege and an important learning experience.
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
Bee poked fun at “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Carpool Karaoke” and “Cash Cab” this year, with assists from journalist Masha Gessen and “Seinfeld” star Jason Alexander. Instead of singing pop songs and throwing praise at celebrities in the car, the women discussed decidedly unfluffy topics like family separation and abortion rights. Another host might not have made this segment work, but Bee’s razor-sharp wit injected it with just the right balance of comedy and unsettling truth.
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
As first lady, every single thing Michelle Obama did or said was dissected endlessly, so it was a moment to cheer when she got to let loose, have some fun and joke about some of the riskier thoughts she has been itching to say in the last eight years. Revealing them on a November episode of the ABC late-night series, while she was on her book tour for “Becoming,” highlights included, “I’m not sure which one’s Sasha and which one’s Malia,” and “Clooney is my freebie.”
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
During the fifth season finale of the HBO show, Oliver reviewed some of the show’s highlights of the year, including creating a children’s book about a same-sex rabbit couple to mock Vice President Mike Pence and using the proceeds to donate to the Trevor Project and AIDS United. The season finale was capped off with a deliciously over-the-top action parody called “The Wax and the Furious,” starring presidential wax figures, Armie Hammer, and Russell Crowe. Who says serious and silly can’t go hand in hand?
“The Late Late Show with James Corden”
Legendary Beatle Paul McCartney hopped in the car with Corden for one of the most heart-warming “Carpool Karaoke” segments yet on “The Late Late Show.” The duo harmonized their way through some of his most beloved hits, including “Blackbird,” “Baby You Can Drive My Car” and “Let It Be.” McCartney also took us on a tour of his hometown of Liverpool, and even non-Beatle superfans were overcome with emotional as they rounded off the visit with a rousing performance of “Hey, Jude” at a local pub. Said Corden, “I think this is an afternoon none of us will forget.”
“Late Night with Seth Meyers”
A particularly sweet moment this year came from Meyers recounting the the story of how his wife gave birth to their second son in their apartment lobby. The touching story was a much-needed bundle of joy in a year of too much darkness, and of course when Meyers got choked up, everyone watching at home couldn’t help but get emotional, too.
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
In what may be a first for late night, three of TV’s most durable hosts got together for a three-way call that aired on CBS and NBC. The fun moment saw the men make fun of each other by using insults President Trump himself has thrown at them, from “lowlife” to “lost soul.” They presented a united front against the orange (or “bananas,” as Colbert would say) leader in this lighthearted, but pointed, bit.
“Saturday Night Live”
Chadwick Boseman appeared on “Saturday Night Live” as his “Black Panther” character, T’Challa, for the “blackest ‘Black Jeopardy’ yet,” as Kenan Thompson’s Darnell Hayes declared in the April 7, 2018 episode. The sketch, which has since garnered nearly 15 million views on YouTube, highlights both the cultural differences between African Americans and the Wakandan people, while presenting their common fight against white people who can’t season their food properly.
“The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”
NBC’s 11:35 p.m. series delivered more than one big moment this season, but the two biggest may have just been the “Musical Genre Challenge” with Ariana Grande and when Fallon returned to his impression roots by portraying Bob Dylan during his post-Super Bowl live broadcast. In the former, Grande proved it was really her year: Not only does she have vocals for which to die, but she also has the versatility to take any song and make it her own, bringing down the house with her Evanescence-esque goth-rock rendition of Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.”
Also, in February, Fallon busted out his impressions Rolodex with a spot-on Dylan. What made this moment really shine were Fallon’s updated lyrics to Dylan’s 1964 classic, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” with references to fake news, smartphones, hashtags, Internet trolls, and the “failing” New York Times.