As Stephen Colbert Apologizes For Kate Middleton Jokes, Has The Era of Late Night Edginess Come to an End?

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As you've no doubt heard by now, the royal family is in a state of crisis.

After removing herself from public life for several months, Kate Middleton announced last week that she has cancer.

The Princess of Wales didn't go into specifics with regard to the severity of her condition or the organs affected, but anyone who's ever experienced the ravages of cancer -- either firsthand or by witnessing a loved one's battle -- knows that it's a horrible disease that extracts a devastating toll.

Stephen Colbert Image

In other words, it's nothing to joke about, which is why Stephen Colbert issued an apology to Kate and her family this week.

In case you missed it, Colbert -- like just about every other public figure in the Western world -- commented on Kate's disappearance and offered some lighthearted speculation about the possible causes.

The clip above is from a monologue that Colbert delivered two weeks ago, when Kate's absence was making headlines, and no one had any idea about her diagnosis.

Once the truth came out, Colbert was quick to retract his remarks and offer kind words to Kate and her loved onesa.

“We do a lot of shows. I tell a lot of jokes. I tell jokes about a lot of different things, mostly about what everybody is talking about,” Colbert began.

“For the last six weeks to two months, everybody has been talking about the mystery of Kate Middleton’s disappearance from public life.

“When I made those jokes, that upset some people even before her diagnosis was revealed,” he continued.

Kate Middleton

“I can understand that. A lot of my jokes have upset people in the past, and some of my jokes will upset people in the future, but there’s a standard that I try to hold myself to, and that is I do not make light of somebody else’s tragedy.”

Yes, cancer is nothing to make light of -- but it's important to note that that's not what Colbert did.

His bit addressed the questions surrounding Kate's sudden disappearance, but it was mostly focused on the rumors that she stepped away from her royal duties because of William's alleged affair with Rose Hanbury.

The jokes weren't particularly edgy or mean-spirited, and they poked fun at British culture more than anything else.

So why did Colbert feel obligated to apologize?

Stephen Colbert

Well, the host has long had a reputation as one of the nicest guys in the industry, so it's not terribly surprising that he felt a twinge of guilt in the wake of Kate's announcement.

In fact, it was more surprising that he made those jokes -- innocuous as they were -- in the first place.

But there's more going on here than just Colbert's understandable desire to avoid being seen as a jerk.

Let us begin by assuring you that you're not about to be subjected to another tired invective on the dangers of wokeness and their effect on comedy,

Those takes are almost always lame, and now more than ever, you can find any kind of comedy that you're interested in via one of the billion or so platforms on which entertainers are currently posting original content.

Stephen Colbert Photo

Network TV has always reflected society's tastes more than it's shaped them, so it comes as no surprise that Colbert and his ilk are offering up a brand of comedy that's more attuned to today's tastes.

Seth, Stephen, and the Jimmies aren't going for edgy low blows anymore because that's just not what their viewers are looking for in the hour before bed.

Ironically, you'll find an edgier brand of humor on After Midnight, hosted by late night's sole millennial, Taylor Tomlinson -- but that's largely because Tomlinson's show brings in an ever-changing roster of standups and allows them to riff in a game show format.

No, we're not about to lament the fact that "no one is allowed to say anything anymore," especially when Dave Chappelle is still able to command an eight-figure payday for a new hourlong special.

We're fine with the fact that late night hosts are leaning closer to Jim Gaffigan than George Carlin these days.

Jim Gaffigan

But we do worry about a future in which all celebrities and powerful public figures need to be treated with kid gloves.

Colbert's apology to Kate was likely genuine and heartfelt, but there may come a time when hosts are forced to make similar statements for reasons related to access.

If you anger the wrong celebrities, then they won't do your show anymore. And if they're influential enough, they might be able to convince other stars not to do your show anymore.

And if you endanger the profit margin of a big-budget movie or TV show by cracking too many jokes about it in your monologue, then an entire studio, network, or talent agency might take your name out of its virtual Rolodex.

Late night shows have always relied on participation from celebrities.

Johnny Carson

But in the old days, the stars would show up just to sip cocktails and shoot the bull with Johnny Carson.

Sometimes they had a project to promote, but those shows had a more freewheeling party vibe, and on any given night, you might tune in to see Shelley Winters dumping a drink on Oliver Reed's head.

These days, the interview portion of the show is more infomercial than informal. Jimmy Fallon and Sydney Sweeney might play a non-licensed version of Password, but the fact that she's shilling for Madame Web is never far from your mind.

Any show that permanently pissed off enough stars would basically be dead in the water -- and since celebs are really the only neutral joke fodder in these hyper-politicized times, the situation might eventually prove stifling for comedy.

What do you think, TV fans? Do celebs have too much power in the realm of late night? Hit the comment section below to share your thoughts.

Tyler Johnson is an Associate Editor for TV Fanatic and the other Mediavine O&O sites. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cooking, and, of course, watching TV. You can Follow him on X and email him here at TV Fanatic.

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