Living la vida lockdown

TV talkshows are getting creative to keep the lights on during quarantine

In the midst of 2020’s terrifying news cycle, there are few things as comforting as the evening and late-night talkshows. They’re not ignoring reality, but they are giving it a bit of a spin to bring out the comedy and the humanity in what we’re going through. Part of the lightness in that comes from watching slickly produced talkshows become the nerdy kind of “live from my house” affair that YouTubers start off doing. It has brought a level of intimacy and authenticity to our screens that more than makes up for the quality drop-off.

This is how Desus & Mero, Trevor Noah, Ellen and company are taking on lockdown


Desus & Mero

Comedians Desus Nice (Daniel Baker) and The Kid Mero (Joel Martinez) host this late-night comedy talkshow. The pair call themselves New York’s “bodega boys” -- the kind of guys hanging around the corner cafe or spaza shop chatting about everything and having a laugh. They were part way into filming their second season when lockdown closed their New York production studio. After a brief two-week break, they were back after their director went online and ordered them all the recording equipment that they’d need.

Mero films from his basement in New Jersey – behind a locked door so that his 4 now-home-schooled kids can’t break in and disrupt filming – while Desus flexes by shooting the show in his “sneaker room” in his New York apartment, because that looks the fanciest on TV. The pair conduct conference calls with their celebrity guests. Their producer, Julia Young, is a vital factor in the mix, uploading funny clips and images for them to comment on, and making sure it isn’t just the two guys taking turns or talking over one another with confused dead air in-between (if you’ve been in 100 Zoom meetings lately, you’ll know that pain).

“When you work with someone that closely for so long, you know the ins and outs of their thought process, where they're going with a joke or an idea. Is it easier in-studio because you have that instant response or gesture that leads you down the path of the joke? Yeah, but it's like a millisecond, the difference,” says MeroDesus adds, “Shout-out to Julia, our producer, who dictates the pulse and the flow, because without her, me and Mero would just end up in some really not-suitable-for-TV material.”

In South Africa, we won’t notice the break during S2, which happened after episode 11 airs with Seth Meyers. The very next episode, titled “Big Rona” will be the guys’ take on how the US was handling (or not) the Coronavirus crisis. They're not all-Corona, all the time, though. “We're all home because of this virus, so you have to at least touch on it or you're, like, completely tone-deaf. But you don't want to just sit on that the entire time,” says Mero. Desus agrees, “People have probably spent all day listening to Coronavirus [news], watching Donald Trump, so maybe this is the one half hour a day to not think about the Coronavirus. Sometimes it's like, are we really doing a comedy show while people are dying? Same time, you're helping people get through, so it’s a double-edged sword in a way.” They’re hoping to help lighten the load especially for essential workers in particular. Desus lives next door to Lincoln hospital and, on the way to do his regular grocery shopping, had to walk past trucks stacked with corpses because the hospital’s mortuaries were full.

Being a double act gives Desus & Mero a unique advantage on the current talkshow scene because the way they riff off one another automatically helps the show to dodge that isolated feeling that can come up during programmes where there’s just one person onscreen, and they’re now working without their studio audience.

Watch Desus & Mero S2 on Wednesdays on 1Magic (DStv 103) at 22:00


The Daily Social Distancing Show

The Daily Show has even changed its title to move with the times. Host Trevor Noah is filming from home with his two Golden Globe awards prominently displayed on the bookshelf behind him (which is otherwise light on books, and what’s up with that, Trevor?). Gone are the sharp suits and news desk. Trevor is on his couch, in his tracksuit, and like the rest of us, hasn’t seen a hairdresser for months. It all gives that One Of Us, Alone Together flavour that’s intensely comforting right now.

Trevor compares doing the show without an audience to "doing this Zoom call by yourself,” and notes that “I feel like one of two things will happen: Either I will come out of this as a better comedian, or I will have no sense of where comedic timing lies.” Behind the scenes, he’s paying 25 of his Daily Show crew members, who’re unable to work, out of his own pocket until they can all get back in the studio. But aside from shooting issues, it’s very much business as usual in the writers’ room. “We are built for this in some ways because we are so flexible and we can shift gears really fast,” says showrunner and exec producer Jen Flanz. “The cool thing is that with our social digital team, we watch so much internet content, we were inspired to make the show a hybrid between a late-night show and the internet, because that’s what a lot of our fans are, the other stuff they’re watching is paced more similarly,” she adds.

Trevor’s celebrity guests -- from entertainers to politicians – are also filming from home, which allows us to be nosy. Trevor’s comic take on daily tragedies has become more powerful than ever, with his special correspondents filming topical skits that get cut in so that the show isn’t just 45 minutes of talking heads. Just one warning: some skits might have you longing for products that don’t exist like the recent Blacklexa – an Alexa-like AI that helps white people who want to be better allies, while freeing their black friends from the emotional labour of educating them about social and political issues.

Watch The Daily Social Distancing Show S25 new episodes Tuesdays to Fridays from Friday, 7 July on Comedy Central (DStv 122) at 22:30 or on Catch Up


The Soup

The Soup’s new host, stand-up comedian Jade Catta-Preta, is back with brand-new episodes. The show had only been on air for a few episodes with Jade before they had to go into lockdown in March 2020, only going back into studio in early June. It’s been a bit of a rough start. But Jade used her lockdown time well. She has kept her fingers on the pop culture pulse for sheer escapism. Every week she will bring us clips and commentary on the best things happening on TV and the internet right now. Jade delves into reality TV, social media, viral sensations, TikTok trends and more. And since there’s always something going up in flames on The Socials, we’re there with the toast for her soup. “I’m coming from the perspective of a fan, which I think is different from any other host. I think the jokes are more self-deprecating than ever just because I am a fan of this stuff. So I’m looking up on it, as [previous hosts] were kind of looking down on it,” Jade admits.

Watch The Soup’s new episodes from Monday, 13 July on E! (DStv 124) at 21:00

PS: E!s other talk shows are also livening up July

Watch Daily Pop’s new episodes on Tuesdays from 7 July on E! (DStv 124) at 14:30

Watch Nightly Pop’s new episodes on Tuesdays to Fridays from 7 July on E! (DStv 124) at 21:00



After two weeks off air from the end of March to mid-April, Ellen’s daily talkshow is now filmed from her lounge at home. No studio audience to surprise and delight, no stage to dance on, and no celebs on her white sofa. “I miss having guests sit next to me so I can scare ’em,” she admits. But that’s one posh house with all its wood, glass and greenery. The studio was a step down for Ellen! Nowadays the talkshow host chats to her celeb guests via video chat like the rest of us peasants (giving us another opportunity to see what their houses really look like inside). She jokes that her wife, Portia, is now her director, while her dog acts as her key grip. In reality, the show has hired an outside tech firm to help them navigate the production circus of getting the show on air out of the studio, with four core crew members working remotely in support.

"I wanted to start doing my new show as soon as possible because it's really for people who are stuck at home. Especially my staff and crew. I love them. I miss them, and the best way I can support them is to keep the show on the air,” she says. “I want to take your mind off of everything that's going on in the world. I always wanted to have this show as a distraction, as a break for whatever's going on out there that may be unpleasant. If you're feeling down, I want to lift you up. If you're feeling trapped, I want to set you free. If you feel like you're going in the wrong direction, I want you to back that thing up."

Watch Ellen S17 Tuesdays to Fridays on Vuzu (DStv 116) at 17:00 or on Catch Up


The Kelly Clarkson Show

On Kelly’s show, it’s still business as usual at the moment for South African fans – studio, spotlights, audience, no masks. In July in SA, we started with episodes that aired in the US in early March 2020 in the US. But in the US, Kelly’s show, which is filmed in advance rather than airing live, took a break in March for quarantine. It returned to work in April with Kelly recording one new episode per week, first from her home in Montana, and then from her other house in Southern California. Those episodes should start airing in SA from the end of July. During lockdown, Kelly is letting audiences inside her house with a fun twist – like performing karaoke cover songs from her bathroom in her Bathroom Kellyoke segment, or showing us how she’s fixing her plumbing. She has turned her attention to people’s social efforts during social distancing with her Good Neighbor segment, which highlights the things that people are doing to help their communities during the pandemic. She also has a new segment, What I’m Liking, in which she reveals what’s catching her attention as she stays home.

While Kelly is largely a positive and low-drama talkshow host, we’ll be curious to see how much of her current divorce back and forth with husband Brandon Blackstock is reflected onscreen. Kelly filed divorce papers on Thursday, 4 June and put two of her homes on the market.

Watch The Kelly Clarkson Show S1 weekdays on M-Net (DStv 101) 16:55 or on Catch Up.

And don’t miss...

The Late, Late Show With James Corden weeknights on M-Net (DStv 101) at around 23:00

The Talk weekdays on 1Magic (DStv 103) at 16:00

The Wendy Williams Show weekdays on BET (DStv 129) at 10:00

The Real weekdays on BET (DStv 129) at 11:00

NB! Last Week Tonight With John Oliver goes on a break after Sunday, 5 July’s episode on M-Net (DStv 101) at 22:05

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