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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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September 12th, 2013
06:16 PM ET

Evolution of late night: Comedians turn to viral campaigns to sell jokes

The video of the worst twerk fail ever from "Jimmy Kimmel Live," and the Breaking Bad parody from "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" are the very definitions of viral videos.

Such digital offerings are now defining late night comedy.

"We just put it on the internet, YouTube, and let the magic happen," Kimmel said of the twerking video.

The comedian's highly produced trick worked, pulling in more than 13 million YouTube hits so far – more than four times his number of nightly television viewers.

But earlier this year, Kimmel told CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper that achievement like this – viral videos that other competitors have not been able to match – is a double edged sword.

"It's a blessing in that many people have learned about our show from those YouTube videos, but it's a curse in that people also know that if something great happened on the show, they could easily just call it right up," Kimmel said.

And though it may seem counter intuitive, both Kimmel and Fallon have made it even easier for their fans to call up the laughs with their YouTube channels, Twitter hashtag jokes, and video homework assignments for fans.

So why do it? Because the number of views is almost like quantifiable applause, helping to mold the comedians future content and success

"It educates you, because it's very democratic. People really are like voting for what they think is funny by watching it, and passing it around to their friends," Kimmel said.

"The main thing to know about these late night shows is, when something goes viral, nothing about that is happenstance," said Laura Bennett, writer with The New Republic. "Producers know exactly what they're doing, and they engineer clips basically to go viral."

Don't worry, late night still has the live band, the monologue, and the tell tale desk, but when Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg began making digital shorts eight years ago, the weeknight crew jumped on board, and so did their guests.

"It's all about branding the show, but they also have different sets of competitors online and on the air," said Bennett. "When you're on the air, you're competing with the other late night shows, when you're online, you're competing with, you know, 'Funny or Die.'"

In ever growing numbers, the fans have followed. Not just because it is funny, but because it is accessible.

"It wasn't like that when I was a kid. You know, if Shirley MacLaine was a guest on Letterman, and you knew something was probably going to happen, you had to be sitting in front of your television set. We didn't even have a VCR at my house," said Kimmel.

Lucky for viewers, this new era of comedy ensures they don't miss a thing.

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