The late-night hosts try to joke about Syria

Some comics attempt to distract audiences from Syria, while others tackle the issues head-on

By Prachi Gupta
September 5, 2013 1:00AM (UTC)
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The roller-coaster that is reality has given plenty of fodder for late night television hosts lately, from Miley twerking to Dennis Rodman returning to North Korea to James Franco's existence. But as war looms in Syria, comedians are going to have to toe a tough line between acknowledging the seriousness of the issues in the Middle East while simultaneously distracting audiences from the news for a few minutes. Jokes dealing with Syria are making their way to late night television, though some hosts are using the news as entry points for safer jokes about race or pop culture.

Conan O'Brien commented on the situation by mocking President Obama's reluctance to exert power without Congress: "Syria, that's a serious situation. Syria's leader Assad referred to President Obama as weak. Obama was so angry, he plans to ask Congress for permission to think of a good comeback."


Letterman mostly avoided the issue, turning the joke into one about Charlie Sheen, instead:

Jimmy Fallon similarly deflected, making the punchline about race: "Of course the situation in Syria is on a lot of peoples' minds right now. in fact, President Obama invited Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham to the White House yesterday to discuss the situation. He would have invited them today, but he didn't want to break the 'No whites after Labor Day' rule:


Jay Leno opened with a jab at the President ("I was sweating like President Obama, looking for someone to go to war with") and followed up with an Obamacare joke:

Craig Ferguson made a classic John McCain/Internet joke, after the Senator was caught playing poker on his iPhone during a Syria debate:


By the nature of his program, Stephen Colbert, of course, dealt with Syria head-on, easing into the political commentary with a Miley Cyrus joke ("President Obama wanted to drop Miley Cyrus on Damascus") and gently mocking President Obama's stance on crossing the red line. Colbert said, "The real story was about chemical weapons in Syria. The United States has no choice but to attack Syria because dictator Bashar al-Assad is killing his own people with chemical weapons. Before, he was just killing them with bullets. But if America cared about shooting people, we'd be invading Chicago."


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Jon Stewart, who just returned from Jordan, devoted much of the show to the conflict in the Middle East -- first with a comedic segment on Syria, then with an interview with Andrew Harper, head of the United Nations’ relief efforts in Jordan.

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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