No laughing matter

Nothing is more responsible for televisions in bedrooms than late-night talk shows and the comedians who hosted the programs that generations of Americans tuned into at the end of a long day for some escape and entertainment.

Starting in the 1950s with Steve Allen, who was succeeded by Jack Paar, the franchise was perfected and essentially owned for decades by Johnny Carson. Though politics, policies, and politicians were often risible fodder for jokes, the intent was to elicit laughs, not change. Certainly, there were some comedians, such as Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor, who used their caustic wit to hold a mirror to the absurd to illuminate social issues. But they were guests, often relegated to five minutes on the “X” mark before going back behind the curtain.

That, like much else in the United States, is a time come and gone. Talk show opening monologues are no longer just abbreviated stand-up acts but increasingly soliloquies opining on some of the most contentious issues facing the country today. Where once the hosts would wait some respectful time before making an event such as the Las Vegas massacre a part of the conversation, save for the momentary somber offer of condolences for the victims, the jokes are shelved and the one-time comedians vent their frustrations and ideology on the stage they own.

Jimmy Kimmel, whose forte was joking about sports before hitting it big with his late-night show on ABC, made a tearful plea for federal lawmakers to act rather than be silent and offer “thoughts and prayers.”

“The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, a number of other lawmakers who won’t do anything about this because the N.R.A. has their balls in a money clip, also sent their thoughts and their prayers today — which is good,” said Kimmel, who posted pictures of the 50 senators who voted against gun control measures following the murders of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut. “They should be praying. They should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country.”

It’s not Kimmel’s first venture into the deep end of the public policy pool. He spoke passionately against the repeal of Obamacare and his infant son’s medical issues, a monologue that some lawmakers began to refer to as “the Jimmy Kimmel test” on whether a plan to reform health care passed muster.

Kimmel is far from alone. Stephen Colbert, who made his name as a caricature of a conservative pundit first on the politically wired “The Daily Show” and then his own spinoff before taking over David Letterman’s slot, begged President Trump and Congress to tighten gun laws. The latest “Tonight” show host, Jimmy Fallon, avoids controversy as much as possible but, after declaring “we’re here to entertain, and that’s what we’ll do”, he eschewed his monologue and opened with a passionate rendition of “No Freedom,” by singer Miley Cyrus.

Seth Meyers, more known for his “Saturday Night Live” antics than his social commentary, lauded the Las Vegas concertgoers and first responders for their actions but then raked lawmakers for their inaction.

“It always seems like the worst displays of humanity in this country are immediately followed by the best, and then, sadly, that is followed by no action at all,” he said. “And then it repeats itself.”

Many conservative observers dismiss the late-night pleas as nattering from the elite left. They ponder why a televised stage gives someone the heft to make moral judgments on the country’s values, though many of these same right-wing pundits idolize a B-grade movie actor as the father of conservative values.

The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr, in an emotional and angry column, says the comedians are speaking out for one simple reason.

“Because our governing class is too frightened to,” he writes.

Brookline’s own Conan O’Brien pointed out the disconnect of laughmakers training the spotlight on serious social ills. The usually apolitical O’Brien talked about a producer handing him a file on Monday, the day after the Las Vegas slaughter, that contained comments he made in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012 and the Orlando nightclub massacre in 2016.

“For me or any TV comedy host back then to come out and need to address a mass shooting spree was practically unheard of,” said O’Brien, who has been a talk show host for nearly 25 years. “But over the last decade, things have changed… How could there be a file of mass shooting remarks for a late-night host? When did that become normal? When did this become a ritual, and what does it say about us that it has?”

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

The Senate is going big on its criminal justice bill, proposing reforms for everything from bail reform to mandatory minimum sentences to fees and penalties that impact poor people disproportionately. (CommonWealth)

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg seem to be on the same page with health care reform. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Braintree town councilors are seeking a legal opinion on whether they can ban truck traffic on a road leading to a proposed transfer station in Holbrook that they vehemently oppose. (Patriot Ledger)

In the ongoing feud between Mayor Jasiel Correia and the Fall River Office of Economic Development, the privately funded nonprofit is disputing Correia’’s claim that the organization is insolvent. (Herald News)

Boston settles a new contract with police detectives that gives them a 2 percent annual raise over four years, but a fiscal watchdog says it will cost the city more with other incentives that are included. (Boston Herald)

Worcester balks at two bills totaling $300,000 from National Grid for repairs to the DCU Center. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump, who tossed rolls of paper towels to residents, met with officials in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico and told them they should be “proud” that “only 16 people died” during Hurricane Maria, even though the death count has not been updated in a week. (New York Times) He also solicited praise for his administration’s efforts in the recovery, which many have damned as slow and ineffective to this point. (U.S. News & World Report)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson nearly resigned this summer amid policy disputes and clashes with White House officials. At one point, Tillerson reportedly called President Trump a “moron.” (NBC News)

US Rep. Joe Kennedy expresses frustration at Republican intransigence on any gun control measures. (Boston Herald)

Republican leaders are reconsidering their plan to repeal the state and local tax deduction as part of their proposed $1.5 trillion tax cut after members from high-tax states announced their resistance to losing the benefit many of their constituents rely on. (New York Times)

US Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania is taking a lot of heat after documents surface indicating he runs his office poorly and tried to convince a girlfriend to have an abortion even though he is, politically, an opponent of abortion. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

ELECTIONS

Five business groups have filed a challenge with the Supreme Judicial Court asking it to throw off the 2018 ballot a constitutional amendment that would apply a surtax on income above $1 million per year. (Boston Globe)

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell pulled in 51 percent of the vote in a three-person preliminary and will square off in November against political newcomer and 30-year veteran police officer Charles Perry. (Standard-Times)

Republican businessman John Kingston has dropped $3 million of his own money into his US Senate campaign for the seat held by Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (Boston Herald)

Tito Jackson is getting shunned by some former allies as he pursues his longshot — and increasingly lonely — challenge to Mayor Marty Walsh. (Boston Globe) A new poll shows nothing has changed in the Boston mayoral race. Walsh leads Jackson 60-24. (WBUR)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Congressional lawmakers grilled Equifax officials about the cyber breach at the credit monitoring bureau that exposed private information on 143 million people and called for legislation and fines to prevent future incidents, though no one had specific ideas. (U.S. News & World Report)

The town of Barnstable has launched a home loan program for low-income first-time buyers in an effort to stabilize neighborhoods and increase ownership among year-round residents. (Cape Cod Times)

A representative of Nordblom Co., the firm with a purchase agreement to buy the former Boston Globe property in Dorchester, laid out to a local civic group plans to reuse the building to house offices for robotics, life sciences, and other companies. (Dorchester Reporter)

EDUCATION

Gov. Charlie Baker promoted what he called a runway to college for Lawrence High School students. With the help of a $2 million private donation, 200 Lawrence high school students will be bused to either Merrimack College or Northern Essex Community College to take courses to help them prepare for going to college full-time. (Eagle-Tribune)

Southbridge officials, trying to bring back their failing public school system with state help, say the state is sabotaging their efforts by locating a new charter school in the area. The officials suggest the decision may be linked to Paul Sagan, the chair of the Massachusetts Board of Secondary and Elementary Education who made a secret, big donation to a charter school ballot effort. (Telegram & Gazette)

Rainer Weiss, 85, who failed out of MIT as an undergraduate but eventually joined its faculty, won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on the detection of gravitational waves, a cosmic phenomenon that Einstein theorized but doubted anyone would ever be able to show proof of. (Boston Globe)

A minor change in how the state determines the number of low-income students in a school district has cost Brockton $4 million in state aid. City officials say the loss of funds stems from the number of undocumented immigrant families in the district who don’t want to register for fear of deportation. (The Enterprise)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The state’s Health Policy Commission concludes two days of hearings on cost trends after hearing that some trend lines are moving in the wrong direction. (CommonWealth)

After a one-day strike, nurses at Berkshire Medical Center are locked out as the hospital deploys replacement workers. (Berkshire Eagle)

Lahey Health announced it is laying off about 75 employees. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

A new inspection system put in place by the Registry of Motor Vehicles has been fraught with problems that have caused service stations, some of whom paid as much as $10,000 for the new equipment, to turn away thousands of customers in need of stickers. (Cape Cod Times)

The MBTA will begin a search for a $220,000-a-year official to oversee the commuter rail system, something former T general manager Dan Grabauskas is currently doing as a $30,000 per month consultant. (Boston Herald)

A Globe editorial says the state needs a well-conceived transportation blueprint that can bring together a range of interesting ideas about the future of mobility, including everything from the role of autonomous cars to the potential of aerial tramways.

MEDIA

Boston Globe managing director Linda Pizzuti Henry says the paper’s printing problems are getting better but “we’re not declaring victory yet.” She also said the paper is not yet making money despite “considerable investment” by her husband to make it sustainable. (Greater Boston)