Comedy Central’s @midnight – which aired its final episode last Friday – had a nearly impossible premise: define the indefinable by corralling the social media mosh pit that the internet has become into something graspable and tangible. But for four years and 600 episodes, Chris Hardwick and an ever-shuffling crew of established and up-and-coming comedians did an admirable job of doing exactly that.
“Nothing else on television today has done as much to showcase the humor and improvisational abilities of stand-up comics and comedic actors. In fact, nothing else in the modern peak TV era has replicated what The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson did for comedy.” – Andrew Husband, Uproxx
The format was simple enough: each night, a panel of three comedians competed gameshow-style to contemplate internet-inspired queries in a sort of freestyle inverse Jeopardy, where there were no right answers, only clever ones.
What, for example, would be the most appropriate way to join the Koch Brothers’ celebration of fossil fuels for Earth Day? What would be an ironclad commandment for a theoretical Star Wars religion? If Pitbull ran for governor of Florida, what would his campaign slogan be? What, you are probably wondering, would be the advantages of global warming? Arden Myrin, Orlando Jones and Nimesh Patel have their ideas on that one:
The cornerstone of the show, of course, was #HashtagWars, the recurring segment that unleashed bizarre and – for the uninitiated – inexplicable trending Twitter threads every weeknight the show aired. In the final episode, Hardwick himself swerved into button-slamming mode, jumping in as a contestant for the first time in the show’s history, riffing on #BabyMovies, #DeadTV, #StonerBroadway, #AnimalMovies, #DrunkVideoGames and other topics among a rotating power panel of biting comics:
For this raucous, inspired and highly original platform, the show won two Emmys – for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media Social TV Experience – in both 2015 and ’16, as well as copious praise from critics, who lauded the show’s role as a pipeline for emerging comedic talent.
“Whether you’re a hardcore fan, an occasional viewer, or a greenhorn whose first exposure was hearing the news, the loss of the Chris Hardwick-hosted faux game show is significant,” wrote Uproxx’s Andrew Husband, detailing how Ron Funches, Nikki Glaser, Chris Cubas, Milana Vayntrub and others found an audience and subsequent projects either directly from or soon after their @midnight appearances. “Nothing else on television today has done as much to showcase the humor and improvisational abilities of stand-up comics and comedic actors. In fact, nothing else in the modern peak TV era has replicated what The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson did for comedy.”
This ever-revolving cast helps to explain how the show stayed fresh for hundreds of renditions as the broader news-social axis increasingly clotted around one or two outrage-of-the-day issues. “But while some subjects were unavoidable — Cash me ousside, Harambe (#RIP) [links added by Viacom], that damn dress — the diligent research team on @midnight plumbed the nether regions of the world wide web to introduce hilariously stupid memes (and cat videos) to new audiences nightly,” L.A. Ross wrote in Mashable. “It was that symbiotic relationship with the internet — the name of the show is its Twitter handle, after all — which created a feedback loop of content that remained fresh for 600 episodes.”
When combined with viral-length segments, the topical comedy and fresh voices merged to form a show both of and perfectly suited to its time. “More importantly, the structure of @midnight was perfect for our ongoing short-attention-span era,” Wrote John Hugar in A.V. Club. “At a time when comedy—and comedy stardom—can be delivered in 140 characters or six-second video loops, watching an entire stand-up special can feel like work, especially if you aren’t familiar with the comic in question. The rapid-fire style of @midnight played into the laugh-a-second nature of the 21st-century market.”
The comedic community’s appreciation for the show was apparent for the final episode, where more than two dozen comics – including Weird Al Yankovic, Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel, Hannah Hart, Thomas Lennon, Paul F. Tompkins, Ron Funches, Jermaine Fowler, Riki Lindhome, Wil Wheaton, Scott Aukerman – rallied at the studio to be part of the final episode:
— Chris Hardwick (@hardwick) August 4, 2017
As the show wraps its run, some of its fans have been mourning. “What this show brought to the TV landscape will likely be perpetually-underrated: Great comedy, joyful escapism, and an opportunity for discovery,” went a typical tribute, on Cartermatt.com.
Hardwick echoed this sentiment when he signed off the final #HashtagWars segment: #AtMidnightIn5Words. His response? “Best job I ever had.”
But Comedy Central’s late-night programming is still stuffed with a robust and growing slate. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is posting record ratings, and The Opposition with Jordan Klepper – starring the former Daily Show correspondent – will debut on Sept. 25. The President Show, starring Anthony Atamanuik, has been extended to a 22-episode run, and the net has ordered 10 additional episodes of The Jim Jefferies Show.