You may or may have not noticed, but there is currently a writers’ and actors’ strike happening across Hollywood. Major film productions have been shut down, as have regular television and streaming shows. No new content. Anywhere.
This also applies to all late-night talk shows. There hasn’t been a fresh new episode of Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, or The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or Kimmel. All three network shows have downed tools in solidarity with the strikers. The question is: has anyone noticed, beyond their niche core audience of coastal liberals, for whom such programs have become little more than political group therapy sessions? Those three late-night hosts certainly feel like they’ve been missed, as they have come together, along with Seth Meyers and HBO’s John Oliver, to host a podcast. On it, the absence of writers is omnipresent; every time a host says the name of the podcast, Strike Force Five, there is a headache-inducing explosion sound-effect drop. Every time the name of the podcast is spoken. And they say that name a lot. Colbert, Fallon, Kimmel, Meyers and Oliver have united, they say, to raise charity for their production staff, who were all forced off the job earlier this year when the strike took effect.
If you struggle to tolerate all five of these hosts giving their own shows’ usual opening monologues on the issues of the day, then imagine all five of them, giving the same monologue, while talking over each other. In the first episode they dive into the writers’ strike from 2005, because that’s a historical event that not many people seem to remember or, much like this writers’ strike, care about. This is a podcast about the hosts, talking about the hosts and an entertainment strike, a problem that seems to be at the back of most Americans’ minds, as they face up to with issues like inflation and credit card debt.
That’s ultimately the real problem with Strike Force Five: it’s boring. Their writers aren’t available for jokes, so it’s mostly just five talk-show hosts talking about how they aren’t talk-showing, instead discussing the name of the podcast and the cute nicknames they have given each other. John Oliver and Stephen Colbert were comedian colleagues while appearing on The Daily Show, so you would think there might be some funny behind-the-scenes stories there. Alas the listener isn’t treated to any of that. Instead they get to hear why John Oliver is listed as “Joliver” in Stephen Colbert’s phone. Hilarious. Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon were writers and performers on Saturday Night Live together; the history of backstage antics from that show’s cast members is legendary. Sorry, no, no stories about that either. It’s mainly five former comedians, making a living off their politics now, all talking about themselves. Jimmy Kimmel likes to fish. That’s interesting, I guess.
The podcast is an exercise in ego, but more importantly shows just how staged their comedy personas are in front of a camera, with a live audience of loyal clapping seals. There are no applause cues, no live laughs, no celebrity guests and no Donald Trump to help them along. The writers’ strike isn’t proving these five unfunny. Worse than that, it’s proving them to be dull, five times over.