TV

Late night hosts struggle to address Boston Marathon tragedy

April 16, 2013 at 8:50 AM ET

Many of the usual late-night voices -- Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman and Jay Leno -- head up shows that were not airing new episodes this week, but that doesn't mean the rest of the after-hours crowd didn't have something to say about Monday's Boston Marathon tragedy.

Perhaps one of the most heartfelt responses came from Craig Ferguson from CBS' "Late Late Show." Ferguson became a citizen of the U.S. in 2008, and was invited to speak at Boston's Faneuil Hall by Mayor Thomas Menino not long afterward.

Ferguson regularly begins his show with the comment, "It's a great day for America," but held off on that for obvious reasons Monday night. "I won't be starting the show with that tonight," he said. "Is anyone else sick of this s---? I seem to have to say that too often.... I like (Boston). I'm appalled by this thing, and when I watch it on these streets that I know, you watch the media going over and over this thing on the streets, it's horrifying.... If I have all this inside of me, if I have all this rage and anger and distress and upset inside of me; I'm not good enough of a comedian to hide that from you."

Related: More Boston Marathon Tragedy coverage

Conan O'Brien hails from Boston, and spoke on his TBS show about it being an "upsetting and sad day," but like many of the other hosts seemed to be at a loss for how to be funny amid the tragedy. "My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston and everybody who has been affected by this absolutely senseless act," he said. "That said, it is our job to do a show. We're going to try and entertain you the very best we can -- which, given our track record, gives you people a 20 percent chance of having a good show tonight."

ABC's Jimmy Kimmel of "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" made similar remarks, calling the day "terrible" and adding that "very bad things happened today for no good reason." He added sympathies to "everyone who is suffering as a result of the bombings at the marathon. It's a disgusting thing."

In the face of tragic events, late night hosts have to walk a fine line -- their jobs, as they note, are to put light laughs and maybe a little social satire on the day's events for viewers who are about to go to sleep. Turning too serious or heavy puts a damper on their ability to carry through an hour-long broadcast that will be, once the awkward first moments are over, focused on less-than-earth-shaking events.

Timing can be crucial: When Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. became the site of a school shooting that took the lives of 20 children and six adults last December, the event occurred on a Friday, which meant the late-night shows had the weekend to let viewers digest the events before they could comment, and late-night writers had the same time to come up with thoughtful responses.

That following Monday, Kimmel began his monologue expressing sympathy for the town and the victims, but choked up and could hardly get through his words. Meanwhile, David Letterman of CBS' "Late Show" spent an extended segment on his show commenting on random violence and feelings of helplessness: "Are we supposed to be worried about dropping our kids off at school now?" he asked (Letterman has a home in Connecticut). "I never worried about it before; I always thought, well, school is a good place where my son will be free of the idiot decisions made by his father."

This time around, however, there were mere hours between when the bombings occurred and late night shows began taping, which made expressions of outrage and grief more raw -- and harder to process.

Meanwhile, though Ellen DeGeneres is not part of the late-night crowd, she also spoke about the tragedy at the end of taping for her Tuesday episode, with a message spoken directly to the camera.

"Before we end the show today, I want to tell everyone in Boston that we're thinking about you. We're watching the news and it is incredibly sad. As we're taping, we're still learning new details. And please know that you're in our hearts. Be kind to one another."

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