These Were the Best Late-Night TV Moments of 2015

From sit-downs with Joe Biden and Edward Snowden to a panel on black fatherhood and Letterman's sign-off, here are the ten most memorable moments from late-night TV this year.

by Jenna Marotta
Dec 30 2015, 4:30pm

Stephen Colbert with Vice President Joe Biden on 'The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.' Photo by John Paul Filo/courtesy of CBS

In the history of late-night television, 2015 will be remembered as a year of reluctant goodbyes (David Letterman, Jon Stewart), returning favorites (Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore), relative newcomers (James Corden, Trevor Noah), and feats of international reporting (Conan O'Brien, Jon Oliver). The landscape was also dominated by men. But change is finally afoot: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee premieres in February, and Chelsea Handler is finalizing plans for her forthcoming Netflix talk show. Here, VICE revisits the ten best late-night moments of the year, TV events that kept the aging form relevant in the digital age.

Jon Stewart on the Charleston Church Shooting, June 18, 2015

In July, six weeks before Bruce Springsteen gave him a farewell sendoff from The Daily Show, Stewart was tasked once again with facing America hours after a mass shooting. This time, a white gunman had murdered nine black members of a prayer group at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Shoulders sagging, Stewart attested that our country makes it impossible for him to do his most basic job: write jokes. Although he is usually hyper-articulate when denoting an injustice, in this case Stewart was as wounded and fed up as the rest of us to be living in a nation where not even schools, theaters, malls, or places of worship are safe from gunfire.

Jimmy Kimmel on Cecil the Lion, July 28, 2015

When Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer paid $50,000 to kill and behead a 13-year-old lion outside a Zimbabwe sanctuary, Kimmel turned his television show into a platform to fund animal protective efforts. In tears, Kimmel—who until then was best known for making celebrities read "mean tweets"—chastised Palmer's manhood in one of the most compelling late-night talk show segments of the year. Within 24 hours, viewers had pledged more than $150,000 to the Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, who had been tracking Cecil's well-being.

John Oliver on Government Surveillance, April 5, 2015

In April, John Oliver devoted a full episode of Last Week Tonight to the plight of "international fugitive" Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who released thousands of pages of classified government documents to journalists in 2013 (and is often mistaken for WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange). Oliver secretly flew to Moscow to interview Snowden, who was apparently almost a no-show. Instead of a potentially dull, policy-oriented discussion about foreign and domestic surveillance, Oliver got to the heart of what apparently matters to the American public: Whether the US government can see photos of yours or your loved one's dick.

Conan O'Brien in Cuba, March 4, 2015

Due to a 53-year-old trade embargo, travel between the US and Cuba—just 90 miles off the coast of Florida—has been restricted for generations. In another international excursion, a white-suited, Panama-hatted O'Brien brought ten Conan staffers to the island country to film a special that the Los Angeles Times dubbed "the kind of guerrilla operation one might expect from, say, VICE and not a seasoned late-night veteran." During his trip, O'Brien danced rumba, sang salsa, and tried to roll a cigar.

Jimmy Fallon with Lin-Manuel Miranda, November 6, 2015

Broadway virtuoso Miranda, who adapted Rob Chernow's 800-page biography of a founding father into the record-destroying musical, dropped by The Tonight Show last month for three rounds of "Wheel of Freestyle" with the Roots' rapper-in-residence, Black Thought. Musical performances have been the program's strong suit since Fallon assumed his desk from Jay Leno in early 2014. Fallon first impersonated Neil Young and Barry Gibb during his time at Saturday Night Live; on The Tonight Show, various public figures have since participated in his "Slow Jam the News" segment, and his recurring celebrity lip-syncing contests are now subject of the Spike TV spin-off series Lip Synch Battle. Provided with suggestions such as "dinosaur," "pumpkin pie," and "Darth Vader," playwright Miranda proved that his recent MacArthur "Genius" Grant was well deserved.

David Letterman's Final Episode, May 20, 2015

Photo courtesy of CBS

With one last self-deprecating dig about being overlooked to host The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson's comedic heir, David Letterman, bid farewell to late-night television after 33 years combined at NBC and CBS. Letterman had lots of star power on hand for his final night of The Late Show, including a Top 10 List co-delivered by Bill Murray, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jim Carrey; a video tribute from former Commanders-in-Chief; and the Foo Fighters in concert. His wife and son also received heartfelt thank-yous, as did the show's crew. The tributes even extended to his competition: Jimmy Kimmel purposely aired a rerun that night so that his viewers would instead pay homage to Dave, and Conan O'Brien told his TV audience exactly when it was time to change the channel.

Trevor Noah on Ben Carson and Rupert Murdoch, October 8, 2015

South African Trevor Noah took over The Daily Show in late September (Jon Stewart has since signed a four-year production deal with HBO), and already he's becoming an expert on our harried election cycle. Neurologist-turned-presidential hopeful Ben Carson was on the receiving end of Noah deadpans recently for the sacrificial-lamb strategy he said he once employed during a stick-up at a Popeyes "organization" over 30 years ago. Nonetheless, Carson's claim inspired media tycoon Rupert Murdoch to tweet his support for a "real black President." Noah, who like President Obama is biracial, delivered a series of stereotype-puncturing zingers for some of his best work this year.

Larry Wilmore's Panel on Black Fatherhood, February 4, 2015

Longtime Daily Show contributor Wilmore extended the franchise at the start of 2015, fronting The Nightly Show, Comedy Central's replacement for The Colbert Report (in turn, Stephen Colbert inherited David Letterman's network time slot this fall). After Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was forced to answer press questions about whether, if necessary, he'd miss the Super Bowl to attend the birth of his child, Wilmore (himself a father of two) posed the hypothetical to a panel of four additional black dads. As if five black men gathered on TV solely to talk about parental responsibilities wasn't revolutionary enough, Wilmore then escalated the conversation by asking whether black women are too bossy, a question the majority of the panelists wisely refused to indulge.

Stephen Colbert Interviews Joe Biden, September 10, 2015

Like Vice President Joe Biden, new Late Show host Stephen Colbert is part of a painful fraternity—in a single instant, each man experienced multiple, cataclysmic personal losses. In 1972, Biden became a 30-year-old widower when his wife and 13-month-old daughter died in a car crash en route to buying a Christmas tree. And as if September 11 wouldn't become a tragic enough date, in 1974, that is when ten-year-old Colbert lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash. This spring, Biden also mourned the death of one of his remaining children, former Delaware attorney general Beau Biden, who had brain cancer. On just the third episode of Colbert's new show, a good-humored Biden Senior spoke about power and grief, and foreshadowed why he ultimately didn't enter the presidential race. In a year filled with news that was too serious to crack jokes about, Colbert's sincere and emotional conversation with Biden was par for the course.

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