O’Brien didn’t name them specifically in his remarks, but other late-night hosts like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Seth Meyers focus heavily on anti-Republican and anti-Trump talking points in their routines.
Critics have referred to pandering political humor that flatters audience viewpoints as “clapter” comedy, in that it’s more likely to inspire applause than genuine laughs.
O’Brien said he didn’t agree with the common opinion that society is too politically correct for comedy to flourish.
“I actually don’t agree with them. I think there’s still plenty of things that are funny and to me, that’s kind of an excuse to say, ‘Yep, I’m shackled, I can’t be funny anymore,’” he said.
“Well, if being funny meant just being incredibly insensitive, that’s probably not great,” he added.
Swisher then pointed out that O’Brien doesn’t usually do “political humor.”
The comic affirmed the observation, saying, “I was never as comfortable with comedy where I needed to make a point about something.”
The podcast host pivoted to the former president, saying, “Like Trump gave people the opportunity to do that.”
O’Brien admitted he believed the Trump era “didn’t serve comedy well.”
“I actually think Trump has been – whatever people say, all kinds of, he’s committed all these different horrible acts – but I think one of the worst is I think he’s bad for comedy,” O’Brien said.
Swisher asked why he thought so, to which the comedian provided an analogy suggesting that comedians parodying Trump was like trying to parody a famous tabloid magazine.
“What you can never do is parody the National Enquirer because the National Enquirer cannot be parodied,” he said, adding, “If you go and buy a real National Enquirer, it says ‘Elvis sighted in UFO; he has tentacles for arms. Ghost baby turns into a vampire and attacks Michael Jackson’s ghost.’ There’s no way to parody that. You can’t parody something that already has that crazy irregular shape. It’s not possible.”
Tying it to Trump, he continued, “So I always thought when Trump came along, what a lot of people have to revert to is, ‘Doesn’t he suck? I hate that guy. He’s an a—–e.’ And those aren’t jokes.”
O’Brien joked they were Trump’s “greatest crime” beyond even the January 6 Capitol riot.
“I’m really going on a limb here saying that’s his greatest crime. I think he’s hurt political comedy by being so outlandish himself. I think the January 6 thing is a blip compared to how much he’s hurt comedy,” he said.
Swisher laughed and said, “I’m glad you went out there and said that.”