An hour after Tuesday’s presidential debate in Cleveland, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon each tried to find the right metaphor to make sense of a spectacle so contentious and bizarre that CNN correspondent Dana Bash called it a “s—show” on live TV. Both late-night hosts found some clarity in yard maintenance.
“It reminded me of that time Abraham Lincoln debated a leaf blower,” Colbert said on “The Late Show” on CBS.
“Usually when you see two guys this age arguing, it’s about leaves being blown onto each others lawns,” Fallon noted on NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”
— A Late Show (@colbertlateshow) September 30, 2020
Like many viewers who tuned into the chaotic debate, late-night comics on Tuesday grappled to make sense of the hostile and caustic spectacle of President Donald Trump repeatedly heckling and interrupting former vice president Joe Biden and moderator Chris Wallace. As The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker and Annie Linskey reported, Trump’s repeated jeers overwhelmed the debate and led to an “uncontrollable spectacle of badgering and browbeating.”
The result was that the American people were the real losers of the debate, Fallon argued.
“The only person who enjoyed that was Vladimir Putin while he was stroking a cat,” the NBC host said.
Much like the professional pundits who termed the debate everything from a “dumpster fire” to a “train wreck,” the consensus among late-night hosts was that the debate was an unquestionable failure.
“It was a terrible debate. I’d call it a nightmare, but at least during a nightmare you get some sleep,” Jimmy Kimmel said on his ABC show.
Fallon added, “Sitting through that debate felt like getting a covid test in both nostrils at once.”
Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show” noted that 90 minutes of Trump’s name-calling, interrupting and making repeated false statements was exhausting.
“It was brutal. There’s got to be a commercial break every five minutes,” Noah said in a recap posted on Twitter. “And during those commercial breaks, every ad should be for antidepressants or some drug that has side effects that makes you forget the last four years.”
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) September 30, 2020
“I’m glad I’ve already had my children, because I think just watching that sterilized me,” Colbert said.
Many of the hosts zeroed in on Wallace – whose performance as the moderator was denounced by many critics, including Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, who called him “ineffective. Profoundly so.”
“Chris Wallace felt like a kindergarten teacher running a class on Zoom,” Fallon said of the Fox News anchor.
Kimmel also tied his performance back to grade school, saying that “Trump treated Chris Wallace like he was Eric asking for more allowance money,” referring to Trump’s son.
Noah pleaded for the next debate’s moderators find some way to keep Trump from bulldozing over Biden’s answers.
“Give the next moderator a spray bottle just to spritz them any time they interrupt,” Noah said. “I promise you, Trump will be quiet because his hair turns into a gremlin if it gets wet.”
Among the most shocking moments of the night came when Trump refused to denounce white supremacists, instead suggesting that the far-right Proud Boys “stand back and stand by” – a statement that Colbert seized on to suggest the president was knowingly egging them on.
“I don’t support white supremacists,” Colbert said, impersonating Trump. “I just command them like a dog. That’s why I’ve got this shiny dog whistle. ‘Proud Boys! Proud Boys, stand back! Sit! Who’s a proud boy? You’re a proud boy.'”
Colbert, who called the debate an “old man slap fight,” said the 90-minute session were overwhelmed with “soul-pulverizing menace.”
“After one and a half hours of chaos and lies, I can say there’s one statement tonight that is absolutely true,” Colbert said, followed by a clip of Trump from the debate. “This is not going to end well.”
Get Boston.com's browser alerts:
Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.Turn on notifications
Great, you’re signed up!
This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com